Upon returning home after an afternoon playing with friends, British 11-year-old Reece was shocked: he found two men who brought news that would change his life forever.
“I remember when I walked in, these two tall guys were there, dressed in very elegant suits,” he tells the BBC.
“All my stuff was in suitcases, and I remember them telling me we were going out for a little trip.”
Reece’s mother had witnessed a traffic homicide and became a witness in the investigation. Those men at the boy’s home in southern Glasgow (Scotland) were there to put mother and children into witness protection.
“It was a little fun at first,” says Reece.
“I thought it was great. I was going to a lot of hotels, we were getting food, it seemed fun and adventurous. Then, as time went on, I started to realize that it never ended.”
The UK’s Protected Persons Service, run by the National Anti-Crime Agency (NCA), provides protection for witnesses deemed to be at serious risk. This usually involves moving them out of the house to a safer location.
According to the NCA website, thousands of cases have been handled by the Protected Persons Service in recent decades.
Reece, now 25, says no one explained to him what was going on. And that moving from one side to the other turned his life “upside down”.
He missed his friends and had trouble adapting to new schools. Meanwhile, her mother’s mental health was seriously deteriorating. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“Before (witnessing) the murder, she had a lot of problems, but she was very strong, nothing could bring her down,” he says.
“Afterwards, I don’t know what happened. I started to realize that she wasn’t the same anymore. Her mental health got worse and every year it seemed to get worse, until she ended up dying.”
Reece’s mother was 45 years old.
The young man says he and his mother spent more than four years in the witness protection program, but the trauma had a lasting impact on his life, from problems at school and with the police.
“When I was between 18 and 20 years old, I started getting into trouble,” he says.
“I’d been in trouble before as a kid, but I’d never been to court. I drank a lot, like five nights a week. Went to parties, used a lot of drugs? I thought I was having fun. I was 18, came out of the closet, and was single. “
At first, he says, “it felt like an escape – and I think in a way it was, but it was not a very healthy escape.”
At the age of 20, Reece was forced by the courts to seek medical attention. He was eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
“A lot of people might not like getting a diagnosis, but for me, personally, I feel like it gave me the answer I needed to start getting better,” he says.
At 25, Reece is sharing his story on a podcast he helped co-produce with other young people.
In the first episode, Reece tells how he managed to change his life. A crucial point, he says, was cognitive behavioral therapy. At first, he thought the treatment wasn’t going to work. But as the sessions went by, he felt more positive, happy and empathetic, he says.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says.
Today, Reece studies for a degree in social work, does volunteer work, and lectures on mental health. Her dream is to produce documentaries.
He also hopes his experience will help other young people overcome trauma.
“Five or six years ago, I was in court, crying to the judge, thinking that my life was over, that I would never have a life, that it was over,” he says.
“Six years on, I’ve worked hard and I’m proud of it. I want people to see that they are capable of overcoming their trauma.”
– This text was published at https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/internacional-62362116