When I was 20 and living in Eastern Europe, someone I thought was my friend told me I could earn £2000 a month working in a factory in the UK. I accepted the job straight away.
There was no hope for me in my country. Things were bad in my life; I had made a few mistakes and was looking for a way out and a new start. So I thought I had nothing to lose. I was wrong.
After two days of driving, I arrived in the UK with three other men. As soon as we got to the house, one of the men took my passport. From then on, we were not allowed out. We were kept as prisoners and physically threatened.
For five months I was forced to work for no more than £5 a week in different places; a pizza parlour, chicken factory, selling mobile phones and distributing flyers.
I was forced to steal petrol and scrap metal and made to open false bank accounts in my name. I was afraid to escape as I thought that the police would deport me because I had no ID. It was awful. At times I felt suicidal.
Over time the men started to watch us less, and one night we overheard them speaking about transferring us to another area to work for other people. My heart sank. What was going to happen next? I couldn’t take it anymore and the others agreed. We had to get out.
We jumped out of a window and ran to the police who took us to a City Hearts Safe House. From the moment I arrived, I felt they cared and believed in me.
At first I was just so angry at the men who had done this to me and wanted to see them punished. The City Hearts staff stood by me as I relived my experience to the police. They never left my side through the whole process.
I felt so supported. I was assisted in closing the fraudulent accounts I had been forced to open, helped in clearing my record, and was aided in sorting out my teeth as they needed urgent attention. I also got a chance to go to English classes.
I feel so much more confident now when I meet and talk to new people. I can attend appointments on my own, and can even help my new friends with the things I have learnt at City Hearts.
My whole outlook has changed. I now look at people with love and I want to build a life that I can invite my family to be a part of again.
It felt like my life was impossible and that it could never change. But it has: completely
Jess in 2005 and Jess today.
We were living in America when my mum got ill. Due to her treatment she couldn’t leave the country so when we returned to the UK, this meant I didn’t see her for over 3 years. It made me confused and angry and I became difficult to live with. I started to artificially control my life through my eating habits.
Between the ages of 16 and 28 I was admitted to hospital ten times for treatment of severe weight loss and depression. Four times my parents were told to prepare for my death and I’d been encouraged to plan my own funeral. Because of all the damage I’d done to my body, I had osteoporosis in my legs and back. Doctors told me if I lived to 30 I’d probably be in a wheelchair.
A few years earlier, I had been diagnosed with OCD and my life was controlled by routines. I couldn’t see an escape from the battles in my mind, locking me into a severely ordered life. At my lowest point, I weighed less than four stone. I desperately wanted to gain weight but the rules in my head controlled my every move.
In 2010, I had exhausted every service the NHS had to offer and came to City Hearts. There I found staff who cared about me and genuinely wanted to see me succeed. I was met with hope – they saw me as a person not an illness.
Patiently and gently the staff helped me break controlling routines. It wasn’t easy, and long suppressed memories of sexual abuse rose to the surface resulting in flashbacks and nightmares. I cried a lot, but they literally loved me back to life. I found freedom from my greatest fears and, after 14 months on the Restore programme, I graduated.
I now have a wonderful relationship with my family, and my mum is one of my best friends. Physically I am stronger that I’ve even been and I’m a real foodie who loves to bake.
Best of all, I’m now a full time staff member for City Hearts. Being able to work for the very organisation that saved my life and help others discover freedom from their own fears is the most wonderful gift I could ever have been given.