She brings attention to how they ended up in prison and why that matters.
"Some people do go to jail, and they come home different people and they want to give back and they want to explain and they want to educate," Grayson said.
"I was born in the system. I've never had parents of my own. I've never been loved correctly. Every adult that was supposed to take care of me somehow benefited or exploited or did not advocate for me," said Grayson, who was born in Los Angeles. "I stayed four months in juvenile hall based upon the fact that I didn't have a parent. Not because I had done a crime."
Her mother was murdered when she was 3 and before the age of 18, Grayson spent time between 22 different foster homes and group-home settings, enduring physical and emotional abuse.
Grayson became a victim of human trafficking, carrying a gun to keep her safe on the streets, but those activities led to an arrest and a 20-year prison sentence at age 19. Grayson served 17 years.
"California needs to do better in how we're treating our children. Every child deserves to have a great life and have access to whatever they need access to, regardless of their status, if they have parents or not," Grayson said.
That's why Grayson has dedicated her life to reforming the system and as a policy associate with the Young Women's Freedom Center, she worked on California Assembly Bill 124, which was signed by the governor last year. It forces judges to look at the whole person instead of just the crime committed, weighing survivors' stories in human-trafficking cases.
"Had AB124 been in effect when I was facing my charges, they would have asked more questions," Grayson said. "They would have seen I had been involved in the juvenile justice system and the foster care system my whole entire life and they would have taken that into consideration, so that I would have had access to community services, I would have had access to social workers."
"We spend over $15 billion a year just on our state prisons. It's still more than we spend on the entire UC system and everybody who's incarcerated in California right now has the potential to do something amazing with their life," said Isaac Bryan, a California State Assemblymember who represents the 54th District and has worked with April Grayson.
"And we have to tap into that and we have to make sure the criminal legal system is about that restoration, about that opportunity, about that second chance," Bryan said. "In many instances like April's, about that first chance."
Because Grayson's crime was considered violent, her case is excluded from the bill she fought for, but she doesn't live in the past or place blame.
She hopes her story, which is being shared in the new short film "Little April," directed by Ben Lear and co-produced by Represent Justice, brings hope to those in the foster care-to-prison pipeline. As of April 1, there are more than 54,000 kids in foster care in California. Studies have shown half of all kids in foster care experience childhood trauma, and more than half have been arrested, convicted or confined by age 17.
April Grayson co-produced and appears in the film about her life, an experience she says helped her heal. Grayson hopes we get to a place where people realize that those serving time can be victims of trauma, too.
You can watch "Little April" HERE.