My name is Marsha and this is my story
Marsha is a survivor of torture and a member of Write to Life - a creative writing and performance group that allows survivors to get their voices heard.
She wanted to share this letter with you so that you can see what a difference your support makes to people who have nowhere else to turn.
The first time I arrived in the UK as a student, my life back home was already insecure. My father had been detained after a peaceful protest. By the time the course ended, a year later, my father was out of detention but in hiding. He had no way to send me the money I needed to continue my studies here. There was nothing for it but to go back and collect the money myself. I knew it was dangerous, that I risked losing the money, or worse. But I couldn’t go back there to live until the government changed, and my family was safe.
As soon as I arrived, I was detained. They alleged I had information against the government to pass to my father. Over the next two days, they did everything to get me to talk about whatever they wanted to know. Today, as a result of that torture, my everyday life is a struggle with PSTD, flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety.
By the time they let me go, I knew I had to leave quickly. It was expensive, and a huge risk; I had no idea what would happen to me next. Only when the plane took off I could breathe.
Today, as a result of that torture, my everyday life is a struggle with PSTD, flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety.
Coming back to the UK, felt like coming to home and safety. No one knew me – but that meant they didn’t know my history, or my family’s. I was too scared to ask for help with my damaged physical and mental health; I didn’t know what might happen with the Home Office if I did. I tried to put the whole experience in a box and keep it locked forever.
But it was all still there, memory becoming trauma. And when my student visa expired, it all blew up. I seemed to have no options. I couldn’t stay; I couldn’t go back. For a time I was thinking that taking my own life would be better than going back to have it taken from me.
During that immensely stressful and uncertain time, I discovered Freedom from Torture. I still remember it was the 23rd of February, 2017, my first day at the organisation. The short walk from the reception desk to the therapist’s room was enough to tell me that I was welcome here.
Every single person greeted me with a smile. At the reception Chantal, Veronica and Tina have always been kind and helpful. My therapist had endless patience. Before I could start PSTD treatment; she had to make sure my overall state was strong enough. It was quite slow, and sometimes I slipped back rather than progressing.
For month after month I had to go to sign at the Reporting Centre as though I was a criminal. I had one last resort: to appeal against the decision.
Meanwhile, the Home Office summoned me for my substantive interview. It was supposed to be postponed until I was strong enough and had amassed the evidence I needed, but they ignored all that. On the appointed day, I waited, alone, for four hours, until the interviewer finally arrived. She said, if I wanted to postpone it, I’d have to go back, from Croydon to where I was living in Barking, get a letter from my GP and come back by the end of the day. I knew that was impossible, so I told her to go ahead with the interview then and there.
I was in the interview from 11.45 to 18.00. She had arrived without my file, so all we had to go on were the documents I had brought with me. I sat there, answering eighty-four questions, all quite random as she knew nothing of my case. Every time I tried to explain something, she’d stop me halfway through while she caught up with typing it up.
For the next ten days, I couldn’t even get out of bed. And in due course, the Home Office rejected my claim; they were not convinced I was a torture victim or that my life would be in danger if I were returned home. For month after month I had to go to sign at the Reporting Centre as though I was a criminal. I had one last resort: to appeal against the decision.
Meanwhile, I had been put in touch with Dr. Alison Smith from Freedom from Torture’s medico-legal report department. With her great expertise, we managed to prepare a detailed report which was properly appreciated in the Court by the honourable Judge. He granted my appeal and gave me leave to remain.
Throughout my battle with the Home Office, I got full support from Freedom from Torture.
Even though sometimes I was not capable of controlling my assertive behaviour, I could face my tearful regret quietly near the fountain in the garden. Every time I came for my therapy session, I noticed a tomato plant in my therapist’s room. That was something I could think about when I was alone and completely depressed about my life. Something with the will to survive. When it became cold, we left the plant safely inside the greenhouse.
I am so grateful to my therapist for showing me different ways to look at life. I became more and more involved in the organisation as there was always something to look forward to there: talking to someone with great sympathy, watching the tomato plant grow and survive the harsh winter in the warmth of the greenhouse.
Then I was invited to the Christmas party, my first Christmas party celebration. Another miracle happened that day. I found out there was a creative writing group at Freedom from Torture. Having been a journalist and writer, I found my passion for life again.
After a long time, I feel confident again; that life is not over yet. Sharing a meal with members of the Write to Life group, writing and thinking about various topics, learning from each other’s struggle and pain, getting advice from mentors regarding life, career and writing have all restored the meaning in my life. I always feel the peace and positive vibe of the organization.
And Freedom from Torture arranged an amazing holiday for me last summer. I went to my preferred location, the quiet countryside of Norfolk. I learned a lot from my host. I met wonderful people there.
After a stressful confrontation with the Home Office, today I know I can stay safe under the protection of the UK. I had a long and painful journey through my asylum claim process. However, I am really grateful to have a new life surrounded by good people. I know life is never going to be the same. Still, every day I am working to become a better person.
I cannot change what happened in my past life but I have a second chance to replace those flashbacks with new experience and achievement.
The journey is not easy at all, but I am determined to help others in need - as soon as I find my feet.
- Marsha, survivor of torture
Write to Life is the creative writing and performance group of Freedom from Torture. Established in 1997, it is the longest-running refugee-writing group in Britain, and the only one specifically for survivors of torture. Click below for more on Write to Life.