Today’s story is brought to you by one of our own, Renata. Renata has been our Finance and Administration Lead for almost three years. We love everything that Renata brings to the table. Renata is smart, kind and has one of the greatest laughs. Her favorite product from Rethreaded is the eternity bracelet which is made right here in Jacksonville, Florida. You can learn more here. We hope you enjoy her story!
A common assumption is that once a victim of human trafficking is freed from that lifestyle they can move on and begin to rebuild their lives immediately. All too often we come to realize that is not completely true and is harder than it seems. I was a victim of human trafficking in the city of Jacksonville, Florida, for nearly a decade. I had dreamed of freedom for many years. I came out of human trafficking on March 24, 2015. I had the mindset that if I could just get a job I would have a better life.
With great determination, I rode the bus day in and day out looking for employment. I quickly found out I had a major roadblock in my way…my record, which was obtained while being trafficked. After six months of continuously looking and hoping for a breakthrough, I found an amazing company (Rethreaded) that would consider me for employment regardless of my background or skill level. I had found the solution to all of my problems.
From the very beginning, I worked hard and saved money. I saw the fruits of my labor and moved into leadership within the company. Everyday, I rode the city bus through the same neighborhoods I was trafficked in; two hours to and from work everyday. Once I had established a job history with consistent income I thought everything else would fall into place. My credit score had risen since I had been paying off old debt. My next step was to get my very own place of residence.
The day I went to apply for my apartment my heart was filled with so much joy. When I got the call back, I was told that I had been approved based on my credit. However, that joy was immediately lost when I was told that I had to wait on my criminal background check to come through before I could be completely approved. A week later I got the call that I had been denied a place to live due to my record. I couldn’t figure it out. I had the employment history, I had the income to pay for the apartment, I had references, and I had the credit score, but once again I had been denied something that everyone needs to survive. I felt so shameful during that phone call. After the apartment manager read to me my prior record she followed it with “We just don’t want people like that living in our community.” I had to remind myself over and over again that I was not that person anymore and it broke my heart. I could not sit back and allow this to happen to others who are trying to rebuild their lives after being victims of human trafficking, something had to be done about this.
My hope was restored when I was introduced to an amazing attorney, Brent Woody (who works with the Justice Restoration Center out of Tampa, Florida). He assured me that he would be honored to walk beside me and file for an expungement of my record on the grounds that all of my charges had occurred while I was a victim of human trafficking. My county had never done anything like this before so I had no choice but to embrace patience. During the expungement process, I began to run into more conflicts while trying to rebuild my life. I could not regain custody of my children. I could not obtain a driving license so I would have to ride the bus through those same neighborhoods where I’d gone through so many traumatic experiences.
Over and over again in almost every area of my life I kept hearing the words “We have to do a criminal background check” and no matter the credentials, money, or references I’d built, I was shut down every time. But my faith was greater and my determination was unbreakable. It only motivated me.
I began my journey of expunging my record in February of 2017. As of November 26, 2018, most of my criminal record was expunged.
I still have a few things that I am working on but today I have a driver’s license and my own car. I can freely apply for my very own place to live and pay my bills with dignity. I can now make a stand and fight for my rights to my children and know that I can provide for them. I am extremely grateful to everyone who took part in making that happen and hope that this story not only provides hope to other survivors who are facing the same challenges but also brings awareness to those in the community who have the authority to make a change in our community.
We are so thankful to Renata for sharing her amazing story. When you support Rethreaded, you help make stories like this possible. Contribute to our continued story of hope and potential through shopping, volunteering, or donating! Want to read more exciting stories about all the great things happening with our staff? Check out our blog!