The nation knows her as Alexis Martin, but she likes to be called “Ke,” short for her middle name Ke’Erica. At age 22, she is just now starting to discover her own identity after spending the end of her childhood trapped as a sex slave, and then growing into adulthood behind bars -- sentenced to life in prison for the death of her pimp.
She might be technically “free,” but Martin’s life on parole still has many constraints. She said she still has more than a decade to go before she can tell some of her loved ones hello again.
Martin recalls when her relationship with 35-year-old Angelo Kerney started in 2006.
“He was very enchanting. He was, and I can't put it anywhere else besides very fatherly,” Martin said.
Kerney became her sex trafficker when she was just 14.
“Ultimately, him and one of his brothers were the only people that was allowed to abuse me across the board, unless you paid for it. Unless you pay to abuse me, you weren't allowed.”
Martin said she realized she was being sold for sex when she was told she couldn’t go to school anymore. The moment she knew she needed to escape was much worse.
“In front of other men, Angelo made me get naked and bow down on the kitchen table. He poured beer on me,” Martin said. “I had to go, and that was the turning point."
According to her current legal team, Martin was 15 when she reached out to a friend to help her escape.
Her friend conducted a robbery leading to the death of Kerney. Martin’s attorneys say she was being raped by another man at the time. Her team said even though she had no involvement in the murder, Martin was still arrested, and by age 17, a judge sentenced her to life in prison.
“I remember seeing my older sister starting screaming and crying and thinking ‘I just want my mom to come hug me,’ ” Martin said.
She spent seven years behind bars, where she earned her GED, became a certified dog trainer and led a support group for survivors of human trafficking.
The Ohio Justice and Policy Center represents Martin pro bono. Attorney Sasha Naiman and private attorney Jennifer Kinsley, who has partnered with the OJPC, specifically helped Martin receive clemency from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
Her release was the first and only time she was allowed to hug the mentor who guided her throughout her prison sentence. Tyra Patterson remembers how Martin celebrated her release.
“I kissed the ground and here she wanted to do a cartwheel,” Patterson said.
Martin is on parole until 2034. Her parole conditions include an ankle bracelet, inability to leave the state, therapy, anger management and medication. Another condition of her parole is she can’t speak to anyone else who is also on parole, not even over the phone, including some members of her family and Patterson.
“We just have to look at one another’s pictures,” Patterson said. “Anybody that’s been directly impacted by parole, she cannot be in contact with. It’s not fair. We have to respect the conditions so she can truly live free.”
Martin is waiting for the day when she can be reunited with the faces she loves in the pages of her scrapbook.
“I haven’t forgotten about them. I just have to put me and my freedom first,” she said.
For Martin, the concept of “freedom” means more than just being released from prison and getting through the strict guidelines of her parole.
“I traded poverty. And then I was in traffic. And then I was in prison. Ever in my life it’s the closest to free that I’ve been, but it’s like now I have my own mental prison,” Martin said. “It's still an ongoing challenge to be free from him mentally, and tell myself that I deserve love, that I'm worthy of love.”
The Ohio Justice and Policy Center has an active case where they’re trying to prove Martin had ineffective counsel during her trial.
Kinsley, Martin's lawyer, said the juvenile court judge should have determined that Martin was covered by the 2012 Ohio Safe Harbor Law that protects children whose crimes are related to their status as trafficking victims.
Safe Harbor Law allows victims charged with a crime to enroll in diversion programs such as health and trauma education that, if completed successfully, could lead to expungement.
While Martin works to get her life back on track with dreams of traveling and getting her business degree, she’s also working to help other victims of sex trafficking get help. A GoFundMe has been created to help Martin save for college, a car and for a down payment on an apartment when she is allowed to live independently.
To report a suspected case of sex trafficking, call the National Sex Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888.