Last year, TRIBE Freedom Foundation raised over £80,000 to support Unseen to maintain its men and women’s victim safehouses and help fund the modern slavery helpline. In March 2018, the TRIBE community came together to establish the TRIBE x Unseen Gym for the Unseen men’s safehouse. This is Frank’s Story, one that truly describes what survivors of modern slavery and trafficking go through, and how Unseen helps them to recover.
“I had a pretty decent life, had a good income, my kids lacked for nothing; I looked after my family well. I didn’t understand there was such a thing as modern slavery. I grew up in a country where we trusted each other, and the person that brought me here won my trust, so I was shocked..
I grew up in Barbados. It is a beautiful country, and everything is in unity and anybody fits in. I met this guy David, who used to come to Barbados on holiday and we’d have a beer together. He used to tell me he had his own company in the UK and how much money he makes – he used to sing a good tune you know.
One day, I lost my job, it was a big salary hit and it knocked me flat. I downsized and tried to get other jobs, but places weren’t taking anybody on. I couldn’t keep up with my bills and I got into terrible debt. David called me up and offered me a 6-month job in the UK, he said I can earn up to £600 per week, and he’d pay for my ticket and everything, so you can see how I would jump at the chance.
I soon realised it was a one-way ticket. And when I arrived, they said I’d have to work on construction sites. They told me if I didn’t work, they’d kill my son. What was I to do? I had no choice.
So, I was getting up at five in the morning, working ’til six at night, in extreme weather conditions – never seen snow before, but now I’m working in the snow with no proper clothing or equipment. Lifting 500-600 blocks from scaffolding to scaffolding, stirring concrete, tiling roofs, building walls – boy it was hard.
I never worked in the same place twice. I used to be in the back of the van with the tools and the people whose houses we worked on, private homes, they don’t know this was going on. They don’t care who’s doing the work, they just pay to get the work done. A lot of people used to pass me, and they didn’t know I wasn’t being paid.
I was hungry to the point where I had conversations with my stomach, they fed me hardly anything. They would give us 99p chicken and chips – one snap box with two little pieces of chicken and chips to share. I remember many times I’d be getting ready for work hungry, to the point where I didn’t know how I was going to get through the day.
I spent the first year being rebellious but then without even realising, I just became complacent. They’d broken me. For another three and a half years I just conformed and did what they wanted but I got weaker and weaker and weaker.
One morning, I was just too weak to lift the blocks, too weak to do anything. This guy was just cursing me, calling me all kind of names and then they realised I couldn’t work. I wasn’t worth anything to them anymore. They dumped me out onto the street and left me there. This old man got me to the hospital. I was so sick I ended up staying in hospital for four months.
After a while, I thought “where am I going to go when I leave here?”
“I was so thin, so ill, I’d been in hospital for four months. It was only when I shared my story with the doctors that they told me that I wasn’t the only one, and that modern slavery was a real thing. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even think of myself as a modern-day slave. I thought it was just me; someone getting some free labour, working me to the bone.
When I was well enough, I needed somewhere safe to go when I came out of hospital. I was far from my country and my friends and it started to look like I would be spending Christmas in hospital because there wasn’t any place for me to go. Then I got a call to say they had somewhere.
When I came to Unseen’s safehouse I was so thankful I was alive, thankful I hadn’t died, thankful I found some place where I could spend Christmas, thankful that the place was clean, that the staff were OK, and that I had food.
The first stage of coming here is relief, you’re relieved that you’re not where you were before, so most guys are like “hey is that a door that I can come in and out of, is that a fridge, I can actually get something, I can actually get a shower, I can actually get some warm clothes and buy my own stuff”. So the first stage is you get that relief.
But after a month, I started missing my previous structure, the orders I had, what they made me do. It’s weird, I missed it. It’s all I knew for years. I got depressed. I was like what the hell, what is my purpose, why am I here, why am I still alive, what am I gonna do with myself now?
I told my story to my support worker James and it came flooding – everything came back, and I remember at the end we were both there crying, two grown men actually crying and that was the day of relief. That was the day I got up, I ran up the stairs and wrote a poem; in about 6 or 7 minutes I had it all down on a piece of paper.
This is a place of healing, this is a place to find what route you want when you leave. There are wonderful facilities, you don’t have to worry about bills, you don’t have to worry about nobody kicking down your door, it’s a safe environment. You have a wonderful support team who have a whole list of ideas and support plans where they can sit down with you and go through it all with you. You got time to think “where do I wanna be?”
I’ve got to the point now where I’m more confident in myself, more confident than I ever was when I come to this country. I think before I act now. When I see James with someone, I’m like “this person is getting the best advice, the best treatment.”
I need to repay James by going out there and being a better man than I was when I came here. A more responsible person, a more caring person, devoted to whatever cause I set my sites on. My goal now is, I want to go back to Barbados ‘cause that’s my home land.”
Since being in the house I’ve had total strangers showing me compassion and love. I came back from the dead, believe me. I was far from my family, and these people showed me compassion and love. Now, what can I do with this? Now I have to give compassion and love back to others.”
Since arriving at Unseen’s safehouse for men, Frank has finally been able to enjoy food without someone controlling what or when he eats. He’s managed to put on weight since his exploitation and enjoys cooking meals, both for himself and for others in the house.
He’s also started to take care of his fitness through exercise and since the installation of the TRIBE x Unseen Gym, he’s enjoyed working out every day. For the first time in years he’s now able to eat healthily and build his strength back up.
Thank you to everyone who has supported TRIBE Freedom Foundation. You have helped Frank get back on his feet and look forward to the future.