Nikol's story

In 1977 I left England when I was just 5 years old and moved to the US. I got married and soon after suffered domestic violence and became addicted to drugs. It got so bad and I was so depend­ent and bullied that I couldn’t see a way out. I was then caught committing fraud by using a fake cheque. Going to prison physically saved me but mentally destroyed me at the same time.

After serving 10 months in a prison in Florida I was taken to an immigration detention centre and spent 9 months there – I was moved around various different camps and on a daily basis I watched people being dragged out of their cells crying; people who were being deported. However, more often than not those same people were dragged back in later that day because there were hold ups with their paperwork. People were being chained, peo­ple were being sick, it was awful.

I was suffering from mental health problems – repercus­sions from the mental abuse, not helped by being treated in a degrading way. I felt like I was left abandoned. And then I found out my mother had passed away. Why me? Why did I have to go through so much trauma? These were the questions I was asking myself, I felt so alone.

Finally my documents had been accepted and the deportation was going through. One of my children had con­tacted Prisoners Abroad through the consulate in Orlando, and what a relief – someone knew I was coming.

The US officers put me on the plane with the clothes on my back, a handbag, nothing else. I came straight from the airport to Prisoners Abroad in Finsbury Park. Nadine, a resettlement officer at Prisoners Abroad, met me with such a welcome that it made me tearful, grateful and relieved. At this point there were many uncertainties, but at least I knew I was safe and in the hands of professionals. Nadine found me somewhere to stay temporarily and gave me some clothes.

It’s scary to think back at what I would have done without that help, within a blink of an eye I would have been on the streets, living rough day-to-day and at risk of violence and illness.

The support from Prisoners Abroad restored me and helped me feel secure again and it is because of them that I am alive. I’ll forever be a part of the charity that imparts no judgement but instead protects people when they need it most.

I feel like I’m living again now; I’m still hurting but healing takes time. Nadine helped me get access to the healthcare which was so important to me in those first few days on return to the UK and I’m in control of my mental health now rather it being in control of me.

Housing was another obstacle that was really frustrating but Nadine helped me through the whole process and found me something more permanent and suitable.

I’ve climbed so many mountains that I’m sure I can face anything; I sometimes can’t believe that this my life now.

I didn’t have time to be weak. I still have moments of weakness now, but I have to be strong for other women like me.

The help that Prisoners Abroad has given me has enabled me to deal with everyday life, which in some ways has been the biggest struggle. I have stayed connected with everyone I’ve met – we are our own community as we’ve all been through prison and deportation and we understand each other because of it. This community gives me the security of a family when my real family are still so far away. I think about them every single day. I have to hold on to what I have and recognise the people who are family to me in all different aspects of my life.

Leaving your family is real. Being told you can’t go back is real. I have suffered, my children have suffered, but I am staying strong.

I am now following my head and my heart and giving back to society through teaching and volunteering. I owe it all to the support from Prisoners Abroad; they caught me before I fell too far.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

[Photography Julian Crowe]

Preventing homelessness is crucial.

Prisoners Abroad supports people who return back to the UK after prison; we find them somewhere to stay, provide grants for food and travel, and help them take the vital steps to a new life.

Can you donate today to support someone like Nikol?