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April Barber and Her Fight for Freedom

May 18, 2023

"Sometimes the only place to start is at the bottom."

Most 15-year-old girls have nothing on their minds but boys, school and a future that seems bounded only by their imaginations. When April Barber was 15 she was pregnant, in jail and facing charges for a double homicide. She gave birth to her son Colt a few weeks later, chained to a hospital bed, then said goodbye to him and was returned to her cell, where she spent a total of 334 days in isolation, supposedly for her own safety.

April took a plea deal and received a sentence so lengthy that she wouldn't even be eligible for parole until she was 55. Forty years to a teenager might as well be a death sentence, and that's exactly how April saw it. She spent her first several years just trying to survive the only way she knew how: fighting to show her toughness, taking horticulture classes, crocheting as a hustle.

Eventually she discovered the thrill of writing. April wrote four books during her incarceration, including her autobiography "Fenced In: Fighting for Freedom" (pictured below), which begins with this poignant sentence: "Sometimes the only place to start is at the bottom." All four of her books are available on

And she met Tommy Scales. He came to the prison to visit his stepdaughter, saw April and asked about her. They started writing each other, and then, on April's 37th birthday, they got married right there in the prison visitation room. April even got to wear a real wedding gown!

Her life had changed. She was no longer that scared teenage girl just entering prison. She was no longer alone in this world but had a soul mate. Yet she was still locked up, still looking at spending most of her life in prison, but more determined than ever not to allow prison to kill her soul.

In 2015, with the help of a group of attorneys who believed that she deserved a second chance, April petitioned then-governor Pat McCrory for clemency. He denied her request. But then, in 2022, Governor Roy Cooper, on the advice of the newly-established Juvenile Sentencing Board, commuted her sentence. She was released within a few days. April spent over 31 years in prison.

"While incarcerated," the governor said, "Ms. Barber has been consistently employed and has participated in significant programming, including earning her G.E.D. and paralegal certificate."

April's son Colt, who remained in her life throughout her incarceration, is thrilled to have her home. "That's my best friend and I confide in her," he says. "Your past doesn't necessarily define you. It's how you move forward from your past."

And move forward she has! She works two jobs, including as a paralegal, yet still finds time to travel through the state and the South sharing her story with others, inspiring adults and challenging young people. She signs copies of her books and sells her own line of "Fenced In" t-shirts. She's developing a program to help both men and women after their release from prison, and volunteers her time for other reentry organizations, including OurJourney.

"I think I have proven myself," April says, "as far as that I have changed, that I'm not the same irrational person, and I think that my story in itself could help deter people from making the same mistakes that I did."

[Portions of this article were taken from two online articles published by WFMY News at and]

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