The idea first came to Donna Alexander when she was 16 and growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the late 1990s: What if all the people in jail for hurting people and breaking things could take their anger someplace else?
She had seen domestic violence and slashed tires and holes punched in walls in her own neighborhood. She had known people who had gone to jail for it. And so Alexander, after moving to Dallas and graduating college, thought she could offer an alternative. She called it the “Anger Room,” a business where rage-filled people of all kinds could smash glass and televisions and computers with baseball bats and tire irons and golf clubs. It was among the first businesses of its kind.
“Donna’s thing was, instead of hurting people, why not let it out on objects so a life isn’t lost, to keep people out of jail?” her sister, Lauren Armour, recently told the Chicago Tribune. “A therapeutic way to get the anger from inside of them and help to relieve stress.”
That’s part of the reason Alexander’s death in September was so tragic, Armour said. Her ex-boyfriend now stands accused of fatally beating Alexander in her own home.
Nathaniel Mitchell, 34, was indicted in Alexander’s death Tuesday after police say he broke into Alexander’s Dallas home through her bedroom window in the middle of the night and beat her about the head with an unknown object on Sept. 21, CBS DFW reported. Her two children were inside the home at the time. Mitchell had initially been charged with aggravated assault before prosecutors upgraded the charges to murder once Alexander died at the hospital three days after the attack. She was 36.
At a vigil celebrating her life in the days after her death, her father, Donald Alexander, said that she had spent much of her life advocating against domestic violence, the Dallas Morning News reported.
“At 14, she knew what she wanted to do,” he said. “She was really adamant about domestic abuse and working to do something for the community.”
Donna Alexander moved to Dallas in 2002 to study graphic design and multimedia before taking a job in marketing. But the idea she had as a teenager was never far from her mind: In 2008, she decided to finally put it in motion, as she told the New York Times in a 2016 interview. She filled her garage with junk left on the curb, then opened it up to friends and co-workers who needed a release. For $5 a pop, they could crush the items to pieces as they pleased.
And as word got around, they kept coming back.
“I started getting strangers at my door asking if my house was the place to break stuff,” she told the Times. “When that happened, I knew I had a business.”
She opened it officially in 2011 in a 1,000-square-foot warehouse in downtown Dallas. The Anger Room, as it was called, was cluttered with an assortment of furniture, computers, printers, glasses, bottles and dishes. She didn’t allow machetes, knives or ammunition and required everyone to wear safety goggles, a helmet and a jumpsuit. But otherwise, there were few rules. Upon request, she could even build the scene her customers most desired to destroy. She could create a mock kitchen or retail store or office — even the set from the movie “Office Space."
"I figured the world needed something like this,” she said in a YouTube interview on a business-advice show called the “Business Battery Pack” in 2012. “You see so many crimes, and so many tragedies going on worldwide, and I thought that maybe if there was an anger room somewhere, we could have prevented this, or we could have helped that person out. [The idea] kept growing inside of me until I finally got up and did it.”
By 2018, her business — among a handful of similar operations in the United States and Canada — had received national and international attention. She told the Times she received about 2,500 inquiries from entrepreneurs seeking to start their own versions since opening. The constant curiosity and publicity helped: The Anger Room was featured in an episode of “The Real Housewives of Dallas,” and Ozzy Osbourne visited for a segment on A&E that aired in November 2017.
That month, she filmed a Facebook Live video of herself lamenting the uncertainty of violence, the Morning News reported.
“We can’t help or control the inevitable. We can’t stop the violence,” she said. “It’s like a lottery. You are going to die eventually — and at a time you may not want to go.”
It’s unclear when Alexander began dating Mitchell or when their relationship ended. Armour told WFAA, an ABC affiliate in Dallas, that she wrote about the toxic relationship in her journal. Prior to her death, she told the station, he had been kicked out of her home.
He returned Sept. 21, banging on the door. According to a police affidavit cited in the Morning News, Mitchell brought a bloodied Alexander to the emergency room at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas early that morning, telling hospital staff that Alexander hit her head when she slipped in the bathroom while getting out of the shower.
But the hospital staff was suspicious. They believed Alexander’s injuries were “inconsistent” with a mere slip out of the shower, and soon they alerted police, according to the affidavit. At Alexander’s home, investigators found a broken bedroom window, with blood speckled on the blinds and the windowsill. They found blood in the bathtub and shower and on the bathroom floor and bedroom and found bloody towels in the closet.
Police arrested Mitchell while he was still at the hospital. He remains jailed on $250,000 bail at the Tarrant County Corrections Center. A defense attorney could not be immediately located, and it is unclear whether he has entered a plea.
Before she died, Alexander was looking into expanding the Anger Room in Las Vegas and Kentucky. But without Alexander, the Anger Room is no longer in business, at least for now. Alexander’s death had been “overwhelming,” her sister wrote in a post on the company’s Facebook page.
“No matter how much she tried to get away from it, he always ended up back in her life,” Armour told the Tribune.