Category Archives: Guest stories

meet a guest Alan

Allan

I’m from Sunderland. My father has been put in prison for life, but he was absent when I was little and we really only ever saw him in prison. My background is pretty chaotic.  My Nan was lovely and my main carer – she brought up me, my sister and brother and a cousin. My mum has been there throughout my life. She wasn’t a drug user or drinker but she just couldn’t cope with kids. When I look back I realise she was just so young and my dad was no support as he was in and out of jail.  When you’re a bairn and you go to visit prison, they search you – even your nappies and they use sniffer dogs on you. I visited him in  Durham and in Stockton where they put Category A, murderers etc.

Nan was brilliant, she signed us up for Performing Arts, dancing and singing classes to keep us out of trouble. At mainstream school I was badly behaved and non-academic. At one point, mum moved nearby with a boyfriend and she started physically abusing me – it was like Eastenders. She said it was because I was so badly behaved. People tried to bully me at school but I would retaliate. I spent a lot of time in isolation. They put you in a room all day with a teacher – you have to arrive after the other kids and you leave before them – I did that for a year. You didn’t have anything to do – they gave you a load of old exam papers to look at. I still managed to get a C for English GCSE – I did ‘Of Mice and Men’ which I thought was brilliant and Romeo and Juliet.

I left school and worked for Sunderland Council as an apprentice carer for adults with learning difficulties. I got Apprentice of the Year and I was taken on as a full-time employee and did it for two and a half years. The job was very stressful, caring for adults with really challenging behaviour. I nearly had my face bitten off – I was assaulted on a daily basis. The men we looked after had been institutionalised for a long time and we were trying to help them integrate back into the community. I was well trained and qualified, but the service was just so understaffed and underfunded – sometimes we had to do back to back shifts.

I left Nan’s to get my own place and I went off the rails a bit – lots of partying. I was earning £1,500 a month, the sort of money I’d never had in my life. I surrounded myself with the wrong people. I was really chaotic – didn’t know what on earth I was doing with myself. My Nana was getting too old to look after me and my problems and I was falling apart. I’d had enough and I left my job and I lost my home.

I was 18, homeless with no family around, so I packed a small suitcase and took the coach to Victoria. A charity put us in a backpacker, but only for a couple of nights. Then someone told us about New Horizon day centre and they made referral for Shelter from the Storm. I was really lucky to get a bed and only had to spend a few nights on the streets.

I it was a massive relief when I first arrived at the shelter, the people made me feel so safe and welcome. It was lovely to have a proper cooked meal like my Nan used to make. Cookie was amazing, helped me a lot, made loads of referrals for me.  The YMCA knocked me back because of my troubled past. I felt really low, I would just burst into tears.  Cookie got me into the Islington Crisis House for a couple of weeks because my mental health was so bad. She finally helped me get my own place and I love it. I’m working with the Prince’s Trust on Music and Art, I’ve become a rapper and people tell me I’m good, I’ve done YouTubes.

The shelter has helped me change my life. My mental health has improved massively. I’ve got friends and the shelter still supports me, I enjoy coming back to visit, it feels like a second home. When I first arrived in London, I went to the Notting Hill Carnival with a friend from the shelter and I just loved it – the life, the music, the energy – I felt at home in a way I didn’t in Sunderland. I’m 20, my whole life is ahead of me and I’m going to make my dreams come true.

 

 

 

 

meet a guest Sharon

Sharon

I’m a Hoxton girl. I was born in Sillitoe House on the Colville Estate. We had no electric, just a little gas cooker on legs and gas lights. Mum, dad and 5 children in 2 bedrooms. We moved out of there to a 3-bed maisonette, which we thought was very posh – height of luxury. It had electricity! We didn’t realise mum had to put money in the meter and we’d run around playing the lights. My dad was a Long-Distance Lorry Driver, my mum was an office cleaner and a School Dinner Lady. The neighbours were a bit snooty about mum working and leaving her children, but mum believed she was giving us a better standard of living – and she was. We were never hungry or cold or without shoes or winter coats. We all had bronchial problems and the old Metropolitan Hospital advised us to move out of London. We did a Council House exchange and moved to Haverhill in Suffolk. I missed London so much – I’m a London girl!

After 7 years in Suffolk we came back to live in Edmonton. I got a job at Villiers Shoes – it was owned by two brother who’d escaped the Holocaust – they had their numbers tattooed on their arms.  We sold old stock High Street brands.  My job on a Monday morning was to clean off the brand names with methylated spirits. I earned £11 for a 6-day week, but I always had all the latest shoes.

I got married at 17, my family were dead against it but gave in eventually. He had a motor bike, long hair and a leather jacket – bit of a ‘Greaser’ I suppose. He was a huge man, very violent – physically, verbally and emotionally. I ended up in hospital three timed with broken ribs, black eyes and broken nose. The rest of the time I just put up with it – put on a brave face – put up and shut up. After he’d been violent, he always said he loved me and promised he’d never do it again. I was 21 and we were all going to a party. He was going to be late, so I went on without him. When he finally arrived, I opened the door to him and the next thing I knew, I was coming round in Chase Farm Hospital. He’d knocked me out and I was in hospital for three days.

I went home to mum and dad, they never said, “I told you so”. It was 1978, I was 21 and I didn’t have another relationship till 1990 when I was 33. I was a canteen assistant and he was a removal man. We were very happy together, we didn’t drink or smoke but we enjoyed going to the pub for the Darts club – bit boring I suppose, but we liked it. With hindsight, I suppose I was a bit of a dogsbody for him and his family, but I didn’t mind, they were my family too.

Things took a turn when his mum fell ill. Me and his mum got on really well, I was her main carer and saved her life a couple of times. My partner became very anxious and difficult around his mum’s ill health and it put a huge strain on our relationship. I suggested we try to talk about it. He refused to discuss anything and said “If you don’t like it, you can **** off –  it’s  not your ****ing house.” I popped out to get his mum’s medicine and pension and when I returned, he’d locked me out. The family tried to mediate, but he just wouldn’t budge. After 28 years, he just wiped me from his life – rubbed me out. When my niece finally made contact so I could collect my ID and belongings, his sister said, “B**** and I don’t want anything to do with her – she’s out of our family, she’s out of our lives.” I was in total shock, we’d had a really good strong relationship until his mum’s illness. His whole personality seemed to change .  I was absolutely devastated – I was heart broken.

I sofa surfed with friends and family for 17 months. One day I’d just had enough of imposing on everyone and I left to live on the streets. I stayed in Libraries all day, I’d shower at my sister’s and friends would give me food. I stayed awake at bus stops all night.

One day I was at the bus stop outside Mildmay Library and a woman from the flats opposite came over with tea and toast and said, “Excuse me, but are you homeless?”  I asked why and she said, “Don’t be embarrassed, I’ve been there myself” She told me to go to the Manna in Canonbury.

I’d been on the streets 5 weeks, all during The Beast from the East.  I wasn’t frightened, I’d just come to the end – I never thought of killing myself, I just didn’t care what happened to me anymore. No one realises how mentally and physically exhausting it is on the streets. Will I be safe, will someone attack me, when will I eat, will I fall ill – you’re constantly on alert. I pitched up at the Manna on the Tuesday and by Friday, I’d got a bed at the shelter. I was in pretty poor shape, I’d lost loads of weight.  My first few days were very emotional. I hadn’t slept in a bed for 5 weeks.  People were so kind and supportive – didn’t judge me. I had a shower and got my clothes washed, had a lovely, proper cooked, hot dinner – there was company, people who cared.  I could finally relax and feel human again.  The Counsellor at the shelter really helped me get some perspective on the things I’ve experienced.

We’ve finally sorted out my paperwork – it was a real shock to have to prove my existence for the last 28 years. I’m waiting for an assessment for supported housing – my own proper little home for life – maybe a little bit of a garden? I’d love a garden, I’m good with a garden. It will be the first time in my life I have ever lived on my own.  After 61 years, I can’t wait.

 

 

meet a guest Dominic

Dominic

I was born in London and then my family moved to Wales.  I studied Engineering at Cardiff University where I had a fantastic time.  I graduated and moved back to London to work for British Telecom, but I couldn’t see myself there for the next 40 years.  I got a job as a temp at Our Price Records, which I loved and ended up as the Manager of Virgin Megastore at Tottenham Court Road.  It was the days of Brit Pop, I earned great money and I bought a house in Watford with my partner.  We did up the house and we got married in 1995. Our first daughter was born in 1998 and our second girl in 2002. We were together till 2006 – 16 years.  In 2001, I had testicular cancer which was successfully treated. We sold the house and moved to Lincolnshire.  Sadly, in 2006, my wife went on holiday with the kids and she told me she wanted to separate.  She asked me to leave the house before she would return.  I pretty much hit rock bottom, and my brothers came to pick me up to take me back to Wales. I was still working, but I’d been depressed for about 4 months before her ultimatum and with hindsight, I guess I didn’t realise how unwell I was. At home in Wales, I went really downhill and my doctor prescribed anti-depressants.

After a while, I just upped and left Wales and moved back to London to live on the streets. I’m not a drinker or a drug taker – I just lived off the Grid.  I used Libraries, Day Centres, Gyms for a shower and a hell of a lot of walking. The Bendy Busses were great, you could hop on and the drivers were really kind and let you stay on all night and sleep  – the 29 was my favourite, it went from Trafalgar Square to Enfield and back again.  Nobody realised I was homeless.  I stayed in a short-term hostel in Tottenham for a few months and then for 6 weeks in No Second Night Out in Islington, where you sleep on the floor.  I managed to find a studio in Peckham that accepted DSS payments and NSNO helped me with the deposit.  It was great for a few years. I helped out in the community, was part of the team running the Peckham & Nunhead Free Film Festival.  During this period, my mental health greatly improved – I came off my antidepressants – life was good.

In 2016, our landlord issued eviction notices to everyone in my building and I couldn’t get him to return my deposit. I took him to court, but I was on my own, fighting a system that was stacked against me.  I sofa surfed for a while, I lost my place on the Peckham housing list, lost my benefits because I had no address and finally I ran out of sofas to surf on

In January 2018 I was back on the streets, back to the same old routine.

A couple of weeks ago I just decided I’d had enough – I’d done it before and till the landlord evicted me, I’d been really happy – I’d applied for jobs, I’d volunteered – it felt good and I realised I wanted that again. I wanted to opt back into society.  I went to the Manna and they made a referral to Shelter from the Storm and by an amazing stroke of luck they had a space.

That first night it was lovely to have a bed again, not worrying that my possessions would be stolen.  Wonderful to have a delicious, proper cooked dinner like at home. To have human company – on the streets you have to be careful about getting too close to anyone.  I’ve found a bit of peace at the shelter, I’ve sorted out my benefits and got a bank account.  Cookie’s helped me with my CV and I’m hoping to get a part time job.  I’d like to do Outreach work with the Homeless.  After I had Cancer, I was asked to talk to men who were about to undergo treatment – people told me it was really helpful talking to someone who’d been through the operation and that felt really good.  I’d like to use my experiences to help people again.

 

meet a guest Justine

Justine

I’m 20 years old and I’m originally from Kent but I’ve been in Islington for 3 years.  I’d been living in the Cally when me and my partner were having a bit of an argument and the next thing I knew, my bags were outside the front door.  I slept out in the park on a bench and in the churchyard at St Mary’s in Upper Street. It was so frightening – I was terrified.

Last year I did a 3-month Maths and English course at Arsenal in the Community. Someone told Jack from the Arsenal that I was sleeping rough and he made a referral to Shelter from the Storm.

The first night I came to the shelter, I was petrified – I couldn’t stop crying – I was in a state of total shock. I think it made me realise I was really homeless. On the street, you can’t let yourself cry, you have to stay really strong. That first night was really tough – I walked around outside- I couldn’t eat anything, but, eventually, I did go to bed and slept.

After a couple of days, it got much easier. I started to get to know the other guests and they were all so nice to me – really supportive. They were all just ordinary people – different situations, different stories, but all just people like me who had somehow found themselves without a home.

I spoke with the shelter counsellor who helped me a lot. Talking to someone about my feelings was nice and it was lovely to be listened to. Cookie helped me find somewhere to live and sort out my benefits which was amazing – I am so grateful for everything she’s done for me.

I’ve made some really good friends at the shelter and I’m going to miss them a lot, but they say I  can come back and visit for dinner and to see everyone.

I was over the moon when I heard I’d be moving into my own place, it’ll be the first time I’ve ever lived completely on my own – without my mum or my partner. I’m a little bit nervous, but also very excited.  The first thing I’m going to do is enjoy a lovely lie in.

meet a guest British St Lucian Denis

I’ve lived in England for 50 years. I was nine when I travelled from St Lucia with my brother to join my mum and dad in the UK. Dad was a tailor and mum worked as a cook in an army barracks in Praed Street.  All four of us lived in one room in a house in Minet Avenue Harlesden. I went to Essendine Primary School in Maida Vale and then on to North Paddington Secondary. I enjoyed school and I did quite well. I was good at sports and I was in all the teams, athletics, football, but my favourite was cricket – I was a fast bowler.  We won lots of competitions and we were pretty feared by other schools. I got a few O levels then left school to start my first job as an apprentice copier engineer. I did that for a few years and then got a job selling hand-made Persian carpets in Westbourne Grove which lasted 7 years.

I got married in 1992 and we bought our own house in Edmonton Green.  I was doing ok, I had my own business importing exclusive Danish Dyrlund furniture. My wife worked on a project with teenagers.  We had two children and our life was really very nice and very normal.  We were together for 10 years and when we finally separated, I left the house to my ex-wife and children.

In 2000 I met my second partner and we had 5 children together. We decided that I should do the bulk of the childcare. We were very happy as a family for 12 years but sadly we then separated. I stayed with my sister and her son for about 4 years in her Westminster Council flat, but when she died, I was homeless. I managed to get a private rented studio in Haringey – I was there for three and a half years when the landlord issued section 21 notices to everyone in the house and we all got evicted.

This was August last year. I was on the streets for a few days when I met an outreach worker at a soup kitchen who referred me to Shelter from the Storm. I was only supposed to be here for a night. I viewed a property which seemed OK, but when I went back to Haringey Council I was approached by someone from the Home Office – I think he was based there at the Council offices. He said they couldn’t help me as I didn’t have proof of the right to reside and I wasn’t eligible for Housing Benefit. I didn’t really understand what he was talking about. I’d lost my passport with my indefinite leave stamp, years ago. To regularise my situation, I’ve had to provide all sorts of evidence of my life in the UK and get copies of my Birth Certificate from St Lucia – it’s taking ages and I’m still homeless 8 months on – waiting for a decision from the Home Office.

If I wasn’t able to stay at the shelter, I don’t know what I’d do, I’d be on the streets again. I walk around or sit in the library most days. Being homeless makes it difficult to have contact with my children.
I’m in Limbo. I can’t work, I can’t get anywhere to live, I have absolutely no contact with anyone in St Lucia. I just hope the Home Office mean it when they say they’re going to make it easier for people like me. But, to be honest, I just don’t know what else I can do to prove I’ve lived here since I was a child and I’ve worked and paid tax most of my adult life

All my life believed I was British and I pray that I can spend the rest of my life it in my own home and maybe find a nice job.

meet a guest Poppie Fleur

I’ve never been happy really; I’ve always felt I was in the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong body. I was born in Sudbury in Suffolk 40 years ago and I had a troubled childhood. When I was 14 I was sent to board at Oakwood House Special School in Stowmarket. The school has been in the news a lot recently, the Headmaster Eric de Smith was imprisoned for 7 years but some of the others involved in the place just got a slap on the wrist. I can sum up Oakwood in 3 words: Fear, Dread, Hate! I spent 2 years there and it was a hellhole. There was sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, torture. I was unhappy and bullied there but I was miserable at home too. My parents just didn’t know what to make of me and home life was pretty dysfunctional. I hardly had any friends, but from the age of nine I did have one best friend, Karl. Karl was beaten up and killed by a gang of thugs in Sudbury. I’ve often wondered if it was ‘Gay Bashing’, but we just didn’t talk about that sort of thing in Suffolk in those days. I was devastated; I was so close to Karl and his mum.

I got married when I was 20. I was in love with my wife and I think she knew I was different before I did; she was very understanding. In those days I was transvestite, but to be honest I was so confused about my gender, my sexuality, my identity, I didn’t know what I was. After three and a half years the marriage broke down. I’d saved quite a bit from my job as a care worker and I went Interrailing. To begin with I had a great time, but I had a break down in Spain. Looking back I think that was the start of my mental health problems. I was flown back and hospitalized; I was so unwell, I was in and out of A&E. I developed eating disorders, I self harmed and I was suffering with self-neglect.

In 1999 I had my first taste of homelessness on the streets of Bury St Edmunds. During this period, sometimes I got accommodation, sometimes I stayed in shelters; I remember one shelter in Great Yarmouth where I suffered the most terrible homophobia. In 2000 I came to London for the first time and was street homeless for a year and a half. I slept in shop doorways in the Strand, Whitechapel, Leicester Square; I lived off soup runs and day centres. It was Hell! I got accommodation somewhere in Aldgate; it was so horrible! I tried to kill myself, the Police kicked the door in and I found myself sectioned in St Clements Mental Hospital. I spent 6 months in St Clement’s and then moved to a therapeutic community in Willesden Green. I was happy there; I felt safe and cared for. In fact I felt so great that after 2 years I left; big mistake!

I found a flat but I couldn’t cope and became homeless again. I had another suicide attempt; this time I was found walking up the central reservation of the A12; I think I wanted get run over! I was put in a hostel in Hackney where I tried to kill myself again. I was on the street once more; I was at rock bottom and beginning to despair.

I moved back to Sudbury and I was kind of ok for a year or so when I met and moved in with the love of my life. She was wonderful and she understood me, but I couldn’t believe that she could love me. She fell pregnant but had a termination. We were both so very sad and I messed up and we parted after 3 years together. I came back to London and got a place at an R. D. Laing therapeutic community in Holloway and I was really happy there for a couple of years. I left to live in Leeds with a partner but that relationship broke down and I ended up in a awful hostel full of drug addicts; it was really scary!
I came back to London and stayed in a hostel in Dalston. It was damp, mouldy and crawling with cockroaches, but the owner was very kind to me and I was actually quite happy there and had a great time.

For the last 3 years I’ve been with a partner living in hostels, B&Bs and shelters, some nice, most pretty nasty! A couple of weeks ago my relationship ended and like a broken record, I found myself back on the streets until I got a bed at Shelter from the Storm.
SFTS are trying to get me referred to the Gender Identity Clinic at Charing Cross Hospital, but there’s such a long waiting list. My dream is my transition. I long to become the woman that I’m going to be for the rest of my life. The people at Shelter from the Storm are trying to look after me but I’m really quite frightened of the future.
To help us help more people like Poppie, go to:https://www.justgiving.com/sfts/donate/

 

meet a guest D

I’m a nomad. I was born in Cambridge in 1964 – my parents were South African hippies and my father came to Cambridge to study medicine.  Cape town in the 60’s was very glamorous – a great liberal, social scene.  My father left us when I was four and my sisters were six and two.  My mother was quite embittered by being left.  She’d followed my father all over the world and then he left her for a younger model.  We moved back to South Africa and my mother went back to nursing to support us – she was a Matron in a Cape Town hospital.

My mother made us very aware that she’d sacrificed her life for us – working all hours to send us to private schools.  When I finished school, I worked as a nurse to pay for my own University place studying psychology, but I dropped out.  I had no support structure and I lived with street people and squatted in Cape Town. When I was 23, I came to London, became a Punk and squatted in Clapton.  I was doing a lot of performance and dancing and travelled back and forth from Jo’burg to London. I had a baby at 27 and another at 31 – I looked after them as a single parent until they were adults.  Life in Jo’burg was pretty extreme – violent and hard.  In 2004/5, I wrote to Tony Blair asking him for help to get away from South Africa. Got a polite reply, but no actual help.

I’d been managing to support us all with work as a journalist, but by 2010 I was out of work.  In 2011, I started my PHD – the kids had grown up and I was on my own.  I sold all my possessions and started travelling across Africa.  My PHD was about the psychological effects of HIV on women.  I would work for a few months then continue my travels.

In a way, I made myself homeless – living in my car in UK and my tent in Africa.  NGO’s in Africa were always very supportive and often gave me paid work.  I lived this nomadic, borderless life, never really feeling at home anywhere. Up to the end of 2016, I lived in my car in Cape Town near to my kids, but  I’d just had enough, so I sold my car and came to UK in January.  I didn’t have a Cent!  I spent the first weeks on the streets around Victoria.  It was bitterly cold and I got ill.  I was told that to get help, I had to be ‘spotted’ on the streets like a wild animal. I went to the Passage in Victoria, but none of the street outreach helped me get a bed.  I met an old friend and Sofa surfed for a while until I somehow got a space in a Churches Winter Shelter.  When the churches shelter closed down I followed some homeless Polish men to a park in Leyton Marshes and I camped there with them.  I guess I thought I’d be safer with them, but they robbed me of everything – my tent, my laptop, my clothes, my sleeping bag.  Luckily, I always keep my ID on me.  That Sunday I went to a Soup Kitchen in Walthamstow.  There was a Christian guy there, a Zimbabwean, and he said I could stay with him.  He was a fundamentalist born again Christian.  This guy became quite abusive and controlling.  He tried to convert me and told me my Catholic godmother was a devil worshipper.  I’d had enough and went to St Mungo’s and begged them to help me.  This time, after three months of asking, they referred me to Shelter from the Storm.

At Shelter from the Storm, I found a place of peace where I didn’t feel hunted, where I could get some sleep and headspace – one of the most underrated human needs. SFTS helped me find my own place.  They’re so lovely at the shelter, but I need my own space – somewhere I can play a little music and have a little dance.  I chose my life and I don’t regret it.

AA Gill

It’s six years since AA Gill first visited us at the shelter and wrote about us so beautifully and brilliantly.  He was a great friend to SFTS and many people who read his piece about the shelter in Christmas 2011, continue to support us and volunteer today.  He cooked for our guests a couple of times – here he is with “the blonde”. We’re so sad he’s no longer with us. Read again his lovely piece about us: http://sfts.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/SFTS_AAGill-copy.pdf

meet a guest Kim

Hi, my name is Kim.  What have I got to show for my life?  Three children I hardly see – nowhere to live – Oh, I wonder sometimes what is the bloody point of it all.  Should I give up or just stay for the long run?  It’s not easy when you suffer with depression to know what’s best to do or where to go.

I came to Shelter from the Storm just over a month ago. The reason I was sent here was because of domestic violence with my boyfriend, now ex-partner.  He put his hands round my throat, caused a big row and told me to get out of his flat.  That was on a Tuesday afternoon; I slept rough at London bridge for the night – feeling scared, unsure what to do and nervous.

In the morning, I went to a homeless place called the Manna Centre, had something to eat and spoke to an advisor.  She phoned round a couple of places and I was told to be at SFTS at 6 o’clock.  They gave me great advice on what I had to do, I’ve met a lot of great people and I should be moving into my own place soon.  If it wasn’t for the staff and people that volunteer here, I would still be on the streets.

Thank you everyone at Shelter from the Storm

 

meet a guest Robin

I’m from Tottenham, St Annes Road and I was born in the North Middx Hospital. My dad was American and my mum from Jamaica. My dad was a GI and mum came here in the late 50’s. When I was 9 they split up. When dad left I really missed him and I became uncontrollable. I started hanging out with much older men and they used me to break in to shops and schools to steal. I was caught and put in a children’s home, Northolt Place – I was assessed there and they did a case conference on me. The Judge said there was no reason I shouldn’t go back home, but mum said no – she didn’t want me.

They sent me to Sir Thomas Moore Community School in West Sussex. It was run by the Christian Brothers and it was a pretty violent, abusive environment – we got hit a lot! When I was 11, I went to my first foster family in Crawley. They were lovely people but I kept running away to mum and she kept sending me back. After that I was fostered twice more, always lovely people but I always ran back home and my mum always returned me.

I left Thomas Moore at 17 and ended up in Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Short Sharp Shock Treatment’ – DC in Ashford. I was still getting in to lots of trouble and after DC, I ended up in Borstal. After Borstal I started stealing cars – Cortina’s, Corsairs, Capris, Grenadas – all nice cars. I got knicked and sent to prison.

At 22 I was released from prison and met a lovely girl at a party. We were together 28 years and have 2 beautiful daughters. I was still mixed up with gangs but I also did some legitimate work – mechanic, security, scaffolding. While I was living this gang life I got shot 5 times.  I also got knifed very badly. I’ve got a big scar on my back. They cut me with a dirty Stanley knife.  It got infected and I had to have a big operation.

I was about 35 and after the stabbing, I went to the US to look for my father, my aunt had kept in touch. I rang him and said I needed his help – had a lot of questions to ask. We were driving over Brooklyn Bridge and he opened up to me. He said he’d heard that I was in trouble and he’d come back to the UK to look for me but my mum had prevented him from contacting me. He even tried to apply through the courts but she stopped him. It meant a lot to me to know that he’d tried to find me.  Later, my son went to live with him in the States.

When I got another stabbing there was a rumour I was dead and my sister phoned my dad to tell him.  It seems the shock gave him a massive heart attack and he died in front of my son. My son hasn’t forgiven me or spoken to me since – he’s still in the States

It was difficult to escape from this sort of gang life. At the time I didn’t want for anything and life was good until I tried to leave – I wanted to see my kids grow up.  I’d seen 12 friends die and I just wanted out – a lot of funerals and no weddings. That’s when the trouble started. I was about 49 and I told them I didn’t want to be in it no more. I got my head chopped! I had to leave my family because I was frightened for their safety. I moved into my aunt’s house in Tottenham.  I’m at home at my Aunt’s when 2 gang members visit me – a guy and a girl. They ask me to do something I didn’t want to do – I said I couldn’t help them. The girl asked for the toilet and while I was showing her, the guy put 6 armour plated bullets under my bed.  45 minutes after they left the police arrived and I was arrested for possession of ammunition. They smashed up my aunt’s flat looking for the gun. I pleaded guilty and got 2 years in Pentonville.  On release I had nowhere to go, I couldn’t go back to my aunt’s and although my mum is still alive, I haven’t spoken to her for years. I knew a guy who worked in a Gym so I’d sneak in there just before they closed and leave when they opened up in the morning.  The agencies that were supposed to be supporting me when I left prison didn’t really do anything – luckily I got a referral to Shelter from the Storm. My years of violent, gang life has taken it’s toll – I’ve been told I’ve got PTSD – to be honest, I was only a child when I started. I’m getting my life back together and what I’d really like is for one day to be able to mentor and help other kids escape the sort of life I’ve lived.