What Does It Mean to be Truly Free?

by Tiffany Simpson, Advocacy Lab Associate at Karana Rising.

It was 17 when I my freedom ended. No, it wasn’t went I was put in jail. It was when my trafficker took control of my body. While other men took turns breaking down my body night after night, the real Tiffany was locked inside my mind. Lost.

Just a few days ago, the prison gave us masks to wear but what good does that do when we are all stuck together. It is scary being in here. I’ve heard there are cases of the coronavirus here in this jail, but I don’t know. I worry more for you all out there than me in here. You are not used to feeling locked up or isolated. I am.

So, let me tell you how it is that I can still feel free even while my body is still in chains.

He was 34, violent and a known criminal. I was a lost 17 year old girl looking for fatherly love. You’ve all heard of “daddy’s girls,” right? I wanted to be one but my father was never around. Neither was my mom. My grandmother tried to raise me. I was angry and hurt all the time. So even that tiny little bit of fake love that my trafficker offered me felt like an ocean of kindness.

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That didn’t last long. Soon, he was calling me names and hitting me. By the end, he had gotten me pregnant and stabbed me in the leg multiple times. He threatened to kill me and burn my grandmother’s house down. I was in fear and never knew when he would strike again. The drugs he gave me left me weak. Even as my belly grew, I was forced to have sex with 10 to 30 men a day. I started using even more drugs to numb my mind. The chains were heavier. I didn’t have the word then but I do now. I was a slave.

Ironically, it was injustice that saved my life. I wish it had been a real rescue like the kind you see in the movies. Only, there was no special victims unit. I was arrested along with my trafficker who had lured another 13 year old girl into his car. Men assaulted both of us. I was still in horrible pain from his stabbings. Still, the police arrested me for pimping a minor and gave me 30 years in jail. That’s where I sit today. Sitting here behind these walls, I have learned the real meaning of freedom.

I’m now 26 years old. I have been away from my family for 9 years. My 8 year old son was adopted by my grandmother. I’ve completed my G.E.D. and have been a part of groups that help women inmates prepare for life after being in jail. I love doing hair and have a passion for cosmetology. I’ve had to adapt. There are good days and there are bad days. I’m sure it’s like that for you all out there. I’ve been learning how to create healthier relationships because breaking the patterns of abuse I learned as a child is one of the ways to be free again.

Breaking Patterns that didn’t help me

I kept getting into bad relationships even after I was free from being a slave. Crazy, right? No. Not really. We are all creatures of habit. I’m breaking mine. My last relationship in here left me with a sexually transmitted disease. It’s still hard to believe that for me. I felt so ashamed and as if my life was over. How could she do this to me? I was sinking into depression. I kept asking what I had done to deserve this after everything else I’d been through. That’s the thing. I didn’t do anything.

Leaning on my real friends

I even started to push away the few people who were really there for me. I felt like I didn’t deserve to have a life. I was drowning. Only, the people who cared about me didn’t let me give up. They dragged me up and didn’t give up on me. I’m going to keep leaning on them so that others can lean on me. Freedom is about being responsible for yourself.

Becoming strong

Becoming stronger in your mind and heart isn’t easy. It also isn’t like one day you just wake up and say, “Well, now I’m strong so what next?”. It’s a daily practice. I am strong, though. Anyone who has overcome slavery like me is basically by definition strong.

Making Peace with my past

Many situations I did not understand the reasoning behind them and many I thought were too much for my shoulders to carry. I have survived many obstacles in the past years and have managed to come out on top.

Understanding who I really am

Going through all this has helped me figure out who I am as a person. I am a daughter, a mother, but most of all I am survivor. So, now it’s really up to you to ask, “who am I?”

If you are a survivor — and many of us have survived trauma — you can’t let that define you. It’s what happened to you, not who you are today. Do not allow it to over power you because nothing is too much for you to overcome.

You ARE a Survivor..

Helping others like me

“It makes me feel good to know that I can make a difference in someone’s life from in here. I need that feeling of hope coming from inside these bars that will reach others who are hurting there in the world. Other survivors like me who can relate to me now because they might feel stuck, too. I’ve sat and thought about how I can change a young woman’s life just by a few encouraging words and to know that there is help out there.

Have dreams

They are not alone in the world. There is always a reason to fight. I have dreams in here. I think you all should have dreams, too. When I finally get out of jail if my clemency hearing goes well, I want to move away from here and start a new life. I want to help people and better myself. I want to go to college.

So, that’s just a little bit of what I know and have learned. I’m not able to write you back real fast because jail mail is kind of slow. But, reach out to my team at Karana Rising and they’ll tell you how to reach me or pass along a note.

Be strong. You are already a survivor so own it!

Tiffany Simpson is the advocacy lab associate at Karana Rising. She is a mother and writer. She is currently in Georgia prison serving a now 20 year sentence after her trafficker trafficked another teenage girl. Tiffany was 17. She uses her story to advocate for legislative change and to inspire others to heal and grow. You can reach Tiffany by contacting Karana Rising at andrea@karanarising.com.

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Karana Rising is by survivors, for survivors. Our team leads innovative labs in wellness, design, advocacy & education to support survivors of human trafficking

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