April, Freedom a la Cart


By: Susan Owens

handsIn the back of her car are hats, scarves, coats, a few McDonalds gift cards, and a list of emergency phone numbers, including a suicide hotline.  April passes out her survival bags to the girls who walk the streets on the west side of Columbus. “I want to make sure these girls stay alive so that when they’re ready to get help, they can.”

April knows exactly what those girls need. April is a human trafficking survivor.

April’s journey started when she was 5 years old.  A stepfather came into her world and offered her sips of Black Velvet. His intention was to make her sick so that she would “lose the taste for it.”  But in a world where her mother sold their food stamps for drugs, Black Velvet formed a connection between April and her stepfather. It gave her the attention she not only craved, but also needed.

Still, April remembers her mother with love. “She genuinely tried to create a good life for us, within her own dysfunction.”

April’s third-grade teacher, Miss Alcott, saw April struggling to read, so she pulled her aside and taught her not to give up when she came across a word she didn’t understand.  “Just keep reading, and the rest of the words will help you figure out what the word means.”

By the time she was 11, April had something in high demand at school — alcohol and marijuana (from her mother’s business).

April left school without her diploma, and by the time she was 30, she was addicted to crack cocaine.

For April, crack cocaine was a punishing, brutal captor.  The money she earned provided her with her next hit. “Drugs are more powerful than we are,” she reminds us chillingly.

After 7 years on the street, April wanted to quit — but had no idea how to or where to turn.  After being incarcerated several times and hospitalized for pneumonia and infections from dirty needles, she asked a judge to put her in a rehabilitation program. But she was rejected and went back out into the streets.

“That rejection was a sign that I wasn’t worthy; proof that I didn’t deserve the opportunity to have a different life. This was my lifetime sentence for the choices I had made.”  Thrown back into the only world she knew, “I genuinely wanted out, but knew no other way to survive.”

Then, one of her “clients” choked her, and April didn’t fight back.  She simply put her arms down and became unconscious.  Like a near-death experience, God came to reassure her that she wasn’t going to die like this, that He loved her, she was worthy, and that her life was going to get better.

The experience transformed April and changed her perspective.  Remembering Miss Alcott’s lesson, April knew she didn’t have all the answers to move forward, she just needed the tools to start.  After a 9-day hospital stay, under house arrest, April ended up back in jail.  This time, she pleaded with the judge to find some other option for her.  That option was Maryhaven.

“Maryhaven saved me,” states April.  And when Freedom a la Carte offered her a job, she was able to find empowerment from taking financial responsibility for her life.  Now 6 years clean, she passes out love, kindness and practical necessities to the girls she once walked with.

April earned her GED.  “That was the first accomplishment I ever achieved.”

Today, April works 35 hours a week at Freedom a la Carte, attends college full-time, and holds down an internship.  Her hair is squeaky clean and her nails are perfectly manicured, her confirmation that she is taking care of herself.  She will receive her degree in mental health and addiction studies next year.

pointer-dingyIf you could change one thing in the world what would it be?

“For people to be kinder to one another.  For people to see the pain that is underneath their choices.”

pointer-dingyWhat is the most important piece of advice you would share with a young woman growing up today?

“That you can do anything you put your mind to if you believe it. You have to believe it to
achieve it.”

pointer-dingyWhat women influenced you the most either past or present?

“My third-grade teacher, Miss Alcott, who taught me to go ahead and read even if I didn’t

understand the word.”

pointer-dingyWhat’s your favorite quote?

“Don’t judge my path, if you haven’t walked the journey I had to make.”



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