I think about when I first got out, sitting in the jail cell, I never imagined I would be sitting here with you, holding my child, I never believed I would be allowed to be near my children. I thought the best-case scenario I was going to get benefits and live out my life in a crappy rooming house. I never believed I could do any of these things. But also when we lean into people’s strengths and skill sets instead of their worthlessness I believe people can accomplish so much. And I think of all the women around me who do this work every day, most of them began as participants or survivors in our programs, to now watch them really use their power...It’s really hard to undo all of the messaging of worthlessness and things like that that you’ve received your whole life. But again, it’s leaning into your strengths and capabilities instead of that old story of incompetence and all you’ll ever be is a body for men to abuse. That is not true and for me, I think there’s many paths to recovery, many paths to exiting prostitution. My pathway out was social justice work and finding that I could make change for others and demonstrating that that is possible and true.
Nicole Bell was born in 1980 in Dorchester, MA. She is the founder and CEO of LIFT [Living in Freedom Together] a nonprofit in Worcester, MA that runs several programs addressing the ending of prostitution and promoting recovery from trauma, substance use disorder, and mental health disorder. In this interview, Ms. Bell shares her own experiences with drug use disorder and her years as a prostituted woman which led to her finding her voice and becoming an outreach worker to other women. LIFT began as a place for women to find shelter and grew to services that include Jana’s Place, HARBOR, CATI Program among others. She speaks national and internationally to police organizations and others wishing to find solutions to the sale of women’s bodies and is a strong advocate for her programs to be survivor led stating, “We really believe that survivors should be in everything and anything that we do.”