My name is April Wilkens, and I am a 51 year-old grandmother in my 24th year of incarceration. I have had no misconducts in prison for over 21 years. I was sent to prison in January 2000 after spending 21 months in the Tulsa jail. I turned my life around behind bars by getting close to God and other people who love God. I have faithfully participated in Redeeming Love Prison Ministry (“RLPM”) for almost 24 years. (RLPM ministers at the Tulsa jail and several Oklahoma prisons.) It was my honor to volunteer and help build the chapel here at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center (“MBCC”) where our services are held. To be sure, I did not come to prison and find God. God was not lost, I was. I was so lost when I met Terry Carlton that I wasn’t even sure if God was real. Now I know without a doubt that God is closer than the air I breathe and Jesus’ love has redeemed me. By the grace of God, I have overcome the mental and physical trauma I’ve suffered, and I haven’t abused drugs since 1998. Character is created in the crucible of pain. The Lord has used everything that’s happened to mold me into a wiser, stronger, more compassionate person who now helps others overcome through Christ.
Here are a few of my accomplishments behind bars:
* In 2021, I became the first and so far only woman to make over a million dollars for TruEnergy, an energy brokerage firm. It only took me about four years to accomplish that feat. In 2017, I was one of 10 women at MBCC chosen by TruEnergy to open its first female site, and one of the first two selected to actually become energy brokers. I also designed and coordinated the firm’s Closer Academy, a training program consisting of months of classes and a one-year internship, which teaches women and men how to become successful energy brokers, a job skill they can use to make a good living.
* I was one of the first six participants to complete the Guardian Angel Dog Training Program in 2014 and went on to teach other participants how to train rescued dogs. We are featured in the “Bassett Tales” documentary about the inception of the dog program at MBCC.
* In 2020, I helped create and organize the ROSE Network that keeps family and friends of MBCC prisoners connected and informed about issues at MBCC.
* I am a live-in caregiver for a mentally ill prisoner who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Prison staff have utilized me as a live-in mentor for at-risk prisoners, including youths, in the past as well.
* I have completed 16 rehabilitative programs and classes including Domestic Violence, Substance Abuse Education, Impact of Crime on Victims, Parenting, Mentoring, Assertiveness Training, Anger Management, and Thinking for a Change, to name a few.
* I was the Valedictorian of Horticulture CareerTech in 2002 and tutored other students in the program. I worked in the gardens for over a decade.
* I serve as a fitness trainer helping others get in shape. I have led several fitness classes in prison and currently lead the weightlifting class. I am also coordinating the Running Club startup. I began running in prison about 20 years ago and ran my first marathon at MBCC in 2017.
* I was on the first MBCC Rodeo Team and competed in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary rodeo in 2006.
Briefly, here are the facts of my case. I did not know when I became engaged to Terry Carlton in 1995 that his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend had both previously filed protective orders against him. We met earlier that year at a business he owned. I was 25 and he was 37. He treated me like a princess at first. The abuse started in early 1996 and he mentally, verbally, physically, and sexually abused me over the next two years. I had three protective orders against him. The violence escalated whenever I tried to end the relationship.
Now-Federal Judge Claire Eagan represented me in my November 1996 protective order application against Terry. She saved an audiotape I gave her of him admitting he choked, beat, and raped me and that he was the sole perpetrator of violence. Neither Judge Eagan’s testimony nor the tape was presented at trial because, as she stated in a supporting affidavit, my trial attorney didn’t contact her.
I eventually learned Terry was using drugs, and regrettably I started using drugs with him in 1997 about a year after the violence began. I had come to feel like I had no control left over my own body and mind. I was broken and blamed myself. I was so ashamed and humiliated. I had no self-esteem or self-worth left.
By early 1998, after I left Terry for good, he was stalking me. He repeatedly broke into my home and ransacked it. He cut my phone lines. He threatened my son’s life. I called police numerous times. He was arrested outside my home in February 1998 at approximately 3am with a loaded 9mm pistol and stun gun. An emergency protective order was issued to me then that wasn’t enforced. In March 1998, a warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to appear in court on a gun charge stemming from his arrest outside my home. Twice in early April 1998, police didn’t enforce the warrant for his arrest and instead took me to a mental hospital where staff treated me like I was imagining someone was trying to harm me and I fled once. He said he had police take me to a mental hospital because he thought a stay there would teach me that he was the only person who cared about me. On April 26, 1998, he showed up at the mental hospital with balloons and a new car he said was my birthday present. When I still refused to get back together with him, he became hostile and threatened me, prompting an employee to intervene before he left enraged. The next day, I was released into a drug treatment program, but left in fear of what he might do to my son if he couldn’t get to me or what he might do to my home. I returned to my home to find he’d already broken in and ransacked it. I didn’t call police because I was scared they wouldn’t arrest him and it would only make him angrier. I tried unsuccessfully to get help from friends. I was traumatized and overwhelmed.
He told me previously if I would just talk to him, he wouldn’t come to my home. So, in the early morning hours of April 28, 1998, rather than wait in terror for him to show up at my home again, I went to his house hoping to make peace with him. He was glad to see me when I arrived, but became angry when I continued to refuse to get back together with him. He forced me into his bedroom at gunpoint then brutally beat and raped me and tried to break my neck. I was later able to get his small 22-caliber pistol and hide it in a pocket. When he saw his gun was missing, he became enraged and handcuffed my hands together in front. He said he was going to rape me “up the ass” and kill me. Frantic, I managed to reach the gun. He lunged at me and was about to grab the gun when I shot him. I heard his voice and it startled me, and I instinctively continued to fire until the gun was empty in a matter of seconds. It was not a conscious choice to keep firing. I was in shock. I removed the handcuffs with hand sanitizer. The phone rang. I answered it and told the caller what happened. She called police, and I let them in.
Prosecutors offered me a manslaughter plea deal with a 20-year sentence. In addition to Judge Eagan’s testimony and the tape of Terry admitting that he choked, beat, and raped me not being presented at trial, the outstanding warrant for Terry’s arrest and my negative urinalysis from the day of the shooting were also not presented. The jury was not given the option of convicting me of any offense less than first-degree murder.
I was a young single mom when I met Terry Carlton over half my lifetime ago. Naturally, I regret so many things I did back then out of inexperience, weakness, trauma, and desperation. I made mistakes that hurt other people, and I’m truly sorry for that. I had never been in a violent intimate relationship before. What’s more, I had no domestic violence education or training, something I now believe everyone should have starting in elementary school. As the old adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I had never even heard of Battered Woman Syndrome and was utterly ignorant about the devastating psychological effects of intimate partner violence and abuse. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way: with a fist in my face and my face to the floor. I know things would have been different if I had been following God.
What would the wiser old lady I am today say to the foolish young woman I was back then? God is real. Love and seek God first, and don’t date any man who doesn’t do the same. Surround yourself with people who love the Lord. It’s okay to be single. If a man seems too good to be true, he probably is. Don’t rush in. Take plenty of time to get to know him. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Don’t put up with abuse even once. It won’t stop. It won’t get better. It only gets worse. You don’t deserve to be abused. Think better of yourself. Love yourself. Love others as yourself. Don’t use drugs. Drugs only make things worse. Money can’t buy love, peace, happiness, safety, or security. God is your source for everything. Don’t put your trust in man or money. Trust God.
My parents have both died since I’ve been in prison: my mom in 2020 and my dad in 2017. My son is now 31, and having his mom in prison has been extremely hard on him. He once said in a letter to the parole board that our separation hurt and it never went away. It still hurts and he wants me home. I have a three year-old granddaughter now, too, and want to be there for her and my son both. My niece and sister also miss me and want me home. I miss my family so much and pray God puts it in your heart to let me go home to them now. My family along with Project Commutation, RLPM, and His House Outreach Ministry (“HHOM”) are all eager to help me successfully transition back into society. I plan to work at She Brews Coffee House and live at an HHOM transitional home initially when released. Who better to learn the ropes from than Rhonda Bear? Before incarceration, I was a board-certified prosthetist. It’s still a dream of mine to work as a medical missionary in underprivileged places where my skills are desperately needed. To that end, I also plan to take prosthetics refresher classes and ultimately return to work in the prosthetics field. I will continue to advocate for incarcerated women and abuse victims. I also want to educate our youth about domestic violence and help them keep from making the same mistakes I did.
Please give me a second chance at life.