By Kate, Manchester Family Support Group Volunteer

Our family support groups provide a much needed sense of community for family members in the face of isolation, judgement, and hundreds of miles of separation from their loved one in prison overseas. These groups - a mix of hybrid and face-to-face - are led across the country by a fantastic group of volunteers who show deep compassion for and understanding of our work. Kate is one of our longest-serving family support group volunteers, so we would like to share her reflections on the evolution of the Manchester group with you here. 

For a over a decade now, I’ve had the privilege of serving as a volunteer for Prisoners Abroad. What started off as an initial idea to enhance my CV and ‘give something back’ turned into an experience that has profoundly shaped my perspective on society, justice, and, most of all, human resilience. 

Kate (centre) with some of our other family support group volunteers

When I came to Prisoners Abroad, I was working as a Senior Manager for a national charity working with women in the criminal justice system in the UK. Naively, I thought that prisons were prisons, with variances in the conditions, wherever they were in the world. As I embarked on my initial induction training, it really opened my eyes to issues I hadn’t considered: the unfamiliarity of the legal system, language barriers, and cultural differences that compounded the challenges faced by those imprisoned abroad. 

 One of the most rewarding aspects of my volunteer work has been the opportunity to build connections with individuals who have faced significant challenges and adversity. Facilitating a regular Family Support Group in Manchester, I’ve tried to find different ways to support and communicate with family members.

Whether it's listening to their stories, offering emotional support, or providing practical assistance, I have been continually inspired by their resilience, courage, and capacity to keep on going, even when they felt they haven’t had the strength to do so. 

 Some families have attended the groups for as long as I’ve been facilitating them. We have seen our children, grow up, head off to university or into the world of work. They’ve seen me go from a rich brunette to a silver grey and they’ve all been gracious enough not to mention it. I’m sure that even Alan, Prisoners Abroad’s Senior Family Services Co-ordinator, had fewer grey hairs than he does now. So, I’ve found a sense of family, not just with the people who have attended the groups, but also with the staff at Prisoners Abroad who have shared their skills and knowledge and have nurtured the volunteers along the way – always welcoming and never laughing at some of the daft questions I’m sure I’ve asked over the years.

 As I look back on the past ten years, I am humbled by the collective impact that volunteers, staff, and supporters of the charity have had in the lives of countless individuals and their families.

While the challenges facing loved ones imprisoned abroad are complex and daunting, I am filled with hope and optimism for the future. With continued dedication, collaboration, and advocacy, I believe that we can create a more just and compassionate society—one where every individual is treated with dignity, fairness, and respect. 

 So, even though it may sound a bit naff, volunteering for Prisoners Abroad has been a transformative and deeply rewarding experience that has enriched my life in ways I could have never imagined. It has reinforced my belief in the power of empathy, solidarity, and social change, and has inspired me to continue working towards a more just and equitable world for all. As long as they’ll still have me, I hope to be around for another ten years - and beyond!

Creating a safe, non-judgemental space for shared experiences.

Prisoners Abroad helps family members affected by a loved one’s imprisonment by providing one to one support as well as hosting family support groups around the country and arranging overseas visits.

Can you help to support our life-saving work by donating today?