I remember the first time I met One25. I was sat in the doorway, waiting for another caller. I was selling my body to the next stranger who would stop by in a car, roll down their window and quietly say ‘how much?’
I was starving, because every penny was spent on addiction. The One25 van pulled up and I just remember feeling safe. Us women need somewhere to go, somewhere to hide, and the majority are homeless, going from crack house to crack house. If we ain’t got that van, if we ain’t got One25, we’ve got f**k all.
So rewind a few decades back to where it all began. I was born a dark-skinned baby and my light-skinned family didn’t want me. My mum and sisters called me “blackie”. I ran away at fourteen. Nobody followed me, so I knew they didn’t care. I think that’s when I changed from being a little girl to an adult – it was just me, myself and I. I looked at couples, families, mums holding their kids, and I wanted that so badly, but I didn’t know if I was worth it.
I was nineteen when I went to London. I wasn’t into drink or drugs or even boyfriends, I just wanted to find somewhere that I belonged. I met this dude with a gold tooth. He started by wining and dining me – that’s when drinking first came into it, and sniffing cocaine. I was looking for someone who wanted to love me so there’s nothing he said that I wouldn’t have done. Prostitution? Fine, I was going to get loads of money for us and then live happily ever after.
When I started working on the streets my drinking increased, because of what I was going through out there. Sometimes men who pay think they can do whatever they want. It’s sometimes horrible, sometimes painful and sometimes you get a slap in the face.
I was in prison just before my 20th birthday. I wrote to my mum to let her know what was happening. She replied to say I’d made my bed, now lie in it. She’d gone to America with my sisters – I never saw her again.
After that, I was in and out of prison. All my self-worth had gone. When I started smoking crack I felt beautiful, confident. Everything was okay, I was in control…no family? Doesn’t matter…nothing mattered. I just felt like I could do anything, be anything…I was loved and accepted.
I couldn’t face life, or other women, or just face the past, really. I tried and every time it was just too overwhelming. I was having children and I just didn’t know how to love them. I thought that if I had someone who loved me unconditionally, it would fix me, but it didn’t. These kids kept coming, but I had nothing to give them. I didn’t know how.
Then something happened that changed things. I headed to Bristol’s red light district and went to visit a man I trusted. He wrote poetry and in the past we’d talked, we’d laughed. He locked me in a room for two days and raped me again and again. Afterwards he sat in the corner, in the dark. When a light shone through the blinds, I could see him swaying and rocking, a knife in his hand. His head was cast down but his eyes were on me. He released me in the early hours, without my underwear or shoes.
This convinced me I was done. Just done. If I’d had the courage to end it all then, I would have. When my One25 worker, Moira, came into my life, it was like a hand through the clouds saying ‘just hold on, you’re not alone…we’ll walk through this together.’
I went to the police, and I knew I was going against the normal street code: you don’t stand up, you don’t fight back. But I just could not allow this to happen over and over to other women. We didn’t get a conviction, but I wouldn’t change doing it for the world. It was important for me to say: ‘It’s not okay for men to keep doing this to us.’
I was scared, but I made it – I’ve been free from drugs and the streets for over 15 months! My days aren’t always rosy – I’m recovering, I’m changing a lifetime of behaviour and thinking. I have learnt behaviour, you know, where I just run away. I’m learning to stand still and think differently, to allow people in to help me. I am no island: I cannot do this on my own.
I’ve learnt a lot about myself. I’m a child of God, a good woman and I’m intelligent! I can stand proud, stand tall. I now volunteer working with adults with learning difficulties – it’s amazing. I had lost faith in other women because of my upbringing, but it is restored. I want to help other women who are in the position I was in, to give them the grace and hope that’s been given to me.