Mandy Ogunmokun was first sold into sex when she was four. Like too many abused children, her youth was dominated by the pain of drugs and prison.
But after 20 years in and out of Holloway and the visceral battle of a heroin addiction, Mandy now helps vulnerable women access accommodation and get the help they need with the Treasures Foundation, which she founded in 2011.
She tells the story of her dramatic turnaround to Hollywood actor Jason Flemyng on More Than My Past’s podcast, aiming to smash the stigma that many people face when trying to find employment after spells in prison or battling addiction.
The podcast is the work of The Forward Trust, who called on legendary Arsenal footballer Tony Adams and ex-Big Issue vendor-turned-London’s happiest bus driver Patrick Lawson to launch their More Than My Past campaign online last year.
At first I didn’t believe it was for real, but then as soon as I saw those houses, I knew it was my destiny
The campaign has turned into a podcast in 2020 with Adams telling his story after Lord Bird featured on the first episode of the show, explaining how he transformed a life of homelessness and prison into founding The Big Issue and working in the House of Lords.
In the latest episode, out today, Mandy explains that “we all have hidden treasures but we need to be in a safe environment to allow them to come out”.
Mandy Ogunmokun was born into a dysfunctional family and was led by her mother and grandmother to substance abuse and prostitution from a very young age – heart-breakingly, she was first sold for sex at four.
She was in and out of Holloway prison for 20 years and later went back to the prison to support vulnerable women after getting clean. She founded the Treasures Foundation in 2011, which now has three connected houses in East London that support and rehabilitate women escaping addiction and homelessness.
There are currently around 2,000 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.
Mandy recalls growing up in an environment in which abuse was normalised and she very quickly turned to drugs and heroin abuse as a teenager. “Heroin was my best friend, I slept with a syringe under my pillow”.
Later, as a rehabilitation worker, Mandy, who carried the Olympic torch on its nationwide tour back in 2012, went back to work in Holloway and would see faces that she’d been locked up with. It was at this time that she was contacted and offered the chance to open houses up to those in need of a safe place.
She says: “At first I didn’t believe it was for real, but then as soon as I saw those houses, I knew it was my destiny. In these houses there is no deadline, women are given the chance to grow in confidence and recover in their own time.”
One of the women Mandy supports has recently revealed herself to be an incredible artist and has started teaching others.
“We all have hidden treasures,” Mandy notes, “but we need to be in a safe environment to allow them to come out”.
29 years ago today @johnbirdswords launched @BigIssue, offering rough sleepers the chance to earn a legitimate income. Hear Lord John describe his own remarkable journey out of #homelessness in this episode of the #MTMPPodcast 👉 https://t.co/loCbzsXEA3 #MoreThanMyPast @TBIF pic.twitter.com/6bFlC9u19o
— More Than My Past (@morethanmypast) September 11, 2020
Flemyng himself has worked in prisons near his South London home for twenty years, including training listeners for the Samaritans and helping run a prisoners’ radio station at Wandsworth.
On his work on the podcast, he said: “I’ve got interested in these people’s stories as they come out and struggle to make something of their new lives outside of incarceration. We’re going to bring you some amazing guests who you would not believe have gone through that system.”
The More Than My Past podcast is available now on all major podcast platforms