‘I have never run so fast in my life’ - Herts teen tells of horrific drugs gang ordeal
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‘Caroline’ was 18 when she discovered her new boyfriend belonged to a drug-dealing gang. In this interview, part of our series looking at the impact of county lines dealing, she details her terrifying experiences.
Caroline was walking along a busy Hertfordshire road, in broad daylight, when she was attacked.
A man split away from a large group on the pavement and started moving in her direction. He suddenly lunged at Caroline, kicking her hard in the stomach. The force sent her flying backwards onto a metal fence, which impaled her back.
This was how Caroline found out her boyfriend of six months, Jim*, belonged to a drug-dealing gang. Her attacker, Jim would tell her, was a member of a rival gang. The man had put her in hospital as a warning to him.
After that day, she felt she was living in a nightmare.
Caroline had met Jim about six months earlier, through friends. She knew he’d been in prison before but had no idea he was still involved in crime. They had hit it off and the first six months of their romance had been fun. But once the cat was out of the bag about his illegal activities, the dynamics totally shifted.
Her head told her to leave but her heart wanted to try to save him. Her decision to stay with Jim after the attack drove a wedge between Caroline and her family. She now describes her relationship with Jim as “mentally abusive”.
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“He always used to tell me her was going to stop what he was doing and go ‘legit’,” she says. “He would put it all on me, saying he would only do these things if I stayed with him.
“I really did love him, and I knew if I left, he would get himself into worse situations. I didn’t want that. I just wanted to protect him and keep him safe. But in the process of doing that, I lost myself.”
Caroline lived in terror. She was “always so scared to walk the streets with him” after her assault. On one occasion, the couple were walking along a street when Jim spotted a rival gang member and shouted at Caroline to run.
“I have never run so fast in all my life,” she says. “Luckily, I saw a group of girls and begged them to let me stand with them.”
She watched Jim sprint past, shouting at her to run with him – but she didn’t.
“Being with that group of girls made me feel so much safer than being with him,” she says. “It was the weirdest feeling.”
Another time, Caroline was standing with Jim’s older brother, talking to Jim on the phone, when she heard somebody start attacking him. The line remained open, so she could hear her boyfriend being brutally assaulted.
Caroline was frantically relaying what was happening to Jim’s older brother, when the attacker picked up Jim’s phone and told her that if she grassed, she would be killed.
But as frightening as these incidents were, it was the daily disappointments which wore Caroline down – the “little things”.
Jim would promise to buy her presents – a particular pair of shoes, or some clothes she liked the look of – but he always let her down.
“It may sound like nothing,” she explains, “but being told you are going to be bought these things and it never happens – it can be very disheartening.
“In the end, I just got tired of everything. He had cheated on me. He also kept getting arrested and going back to prison. I wasn’t willing to put my life on hold any longer.
“There was no particular incident that made me leave. I just knew my self-worth and knew that it wasn’t a healthy relationship to be in.”
One day, Caroline summoned the courage to call an older cousin, who came and collected her and drove her back to her mother’s house.
She has since sought help from Aspire, a Hertfordshire charity which helps people aged 13-21, who have become involved with gang activity, to build new lives.
“Being in a gang is so glorified for young people,” says Caroline. “All they show you is the money and being able to buy nice things, when in reality it only ends up two ways – you either end up in prison or, unfortunately, for some people, dead.
“I can tell you from experience, that lifestyle isn’t one I’d like to live again. The constant looking over my shoulder, being scared all the time and the general worry about my boyfriend – it was just not worth it.
“I’m on really good terms with my family now. They trust me and can see I’ve grown up and made decisions to change a lot of things in my life.”
To learn more about Aspire or contact the project, visit www.transitionsuk.org/aspire