Many family members feel like they are carrying much of the emotional burden of an overseas sentence. One person shares how she first came to attend one of our Family Support Groups and how the space to talk with others in a similar situation helped her come to terms with her husband's arrest.

My husband was arrested and remanded in a foreign jail just over 14 months ago. This happened without warning and was very unexpected. It was a terrible shock. The day my husband was taken away will remain forever etched on my mind.

The look of panic on his face and the feeling of total helplessness which enveloped me as he was led away. I just sat on the sofa and felt numb. I didn’t know what to do next. I didn’t know where he was being taken, whether there would be anyone there who spoke English or whether he would have access to legal advice.

That first night I lay awake trying to visualise where he might be, whether he was cold, whether he’d been fed. So started one of the worst years of my family’s life.

However, in the sea of despair there were some nuggets of comfort. I was contacted by Prisoners Abroad. I had never heard of them before, but my husband had filled out the consent forms with the British consular officials upon his arrival and they then passed my details on.

Prisoners Abroad sent an introductory letter to me at home explaining how they were there to help the detainees in prison, but also how they also helped us, the relatives, left behind to cope with the fallout at home.

I read through the literature, but hesitated to make any contact. I felt very much in the bunker at this stage. I just wanted to keep my head down, liaise with the lawyers and take care of our children. I didn’t even tell either set of parents about what had happened. It was too traumatic to re-live so I just put my head in the sand and tried to carry on regardless. This only worked for so long.

The pressure was relentless. I had been kidding myself that my husband would make bail and get some kind of freedom, albeit in a foreign country. Now this chance had receded, I realised I would have to start telling people where he was and why he was there. I knew I was going to be on my own and, in addition to having our children to look after, I was going to have to be a quasi-carer for my husband - albeit at arm’s length.

The following months felt chaotic. I was trying to keep the family home going, looking after our children, travelling abroad to visit my husband each week for a one-hour visit. The travelling time meant by the time I arrived home, I’d done a 19-hour day on the road.

It wasn’t just the practical considerations that took hold. Managing my children’s emotions was hard. Nothing had prepared me for how different their reactions would be. Our son shut down completely. He refused to open and read the letters his father wrote to him. He was a great support to me but he wouldn’t talk about what had happened. Our daughters were very emotional and worried about their father. They opened his letters, but alone, and expressed a wish to visit him. I was conflicted over whether this was an appropriate thing to allow.

By then my husband’s fate had been in the papers and on the internet and my children suffered from the embarrassment at having our family name in the spotlight. I had told most family members, but felt I had to hold back a lot of detail so as not to heap worry on to them all.

This all started to take its toll on my own mental health. I lost weight, had trouble sleeping, and suffered from anxiety. I would race around buying clothes and items allowed in by the prison to take with me on my next visit. Looking back, I completely suspended my own life and focused entirely on my husband, trying to manage what little I could to make his time in prison more bearable.

Whenever he phoned, I would drop everything and focus on speaking with him irrespective of whether we were eating, or out socially. The children became resentful about how much of my time was taken up by my husband and his case.

Around this time, Prisoners Abroad wrote notifying me they were re-starting face to face Family Support Meetings at various locations around the UK. I noticed there was one coming up in my local area. On impulse, I sent a one line email to the Prisoners Abroad office saying I would like to attend. They emailed back a few days later welcoming me to the meeting, giving further details. They were very clear that everything was in complete confidence.

I was curious but also hesitant. I don’t really like going to group things. There is something about sitting in a room with strangers having to open up about really painful, personal stuff. I just wasn’t sure I could or wanted to do it.

I played a game and told myself to go along with it all, book in, confirm attendance, but if I didn’t fancy it on the day, then I didn’t have to go. There was no cancellation fee, no-one would be ringing me up to remonstrate if I didn’t turn up. I didn’t speak to anyone about attending, didn’t even mark it on the family calendar.

The day of the meeting dawned. I didn’t really feel like going. What if there was someone there who knew me? What if someone recognised my husband’s name? At the same time, I did feel curious about going. I wanted to hear about the experiences of the other families.

What had struck me about my own situation was that family and friends could not really understand what we were going through because they had not experienced it first-hand themselves. As supportive as some were, they were able to go back home to a normal life.

I drove to the meeting and arrived massively early. I sat waiting in my car outside the venue. I almost drove off and text an excuse through to the co-ordinator. But I saw other people arriving. They looked just like me. Mostly on their own, different ages, dressed casually, nothing too formal.

I decided to give it a go. Again, I comforted myself with the fact I could always walk out of the meeting if I found it too intimidating or invasive.

I was so surprised about what that meeting gave to me. It lasted about two and a half hours. Our co-ordinator had been a volunteer for Prisoners Abroad for many years. Her handling of the meeting was very good. She asked people to introduce themselves and she got the other people who had been before to lead the way and talk about their relative, what had happened to them and how this had affected their family.

For the first time since my husband’s arrest, I felt I was surrounded by people who really did know what my children and I were living with every day.

What struck me was that everyone in that room had been forced to adapt their own lives to fit around the life of their loved one inside prison. Many relatives only got to visit infrequently, a couple of times a year.

'They spoke movingly of the isolation they felt at home, trying to hold everyone together. The frustration of missing phone calls from their loved one who had probably had to queue up for hours to even get to the prison phone."

I found it so helpful to listen to other relatives talking openly about how their loved ones inside prison can lean too much on the people back home. How it’s okay to sometimes feel frustration and anger towards our loved ones inside prison for missing family events like birthdays, holidays, school events, or just simple things like helping with children’s homework or putting the bins out.

For the first time since my husband’s arrest, I stood back and looked at my life with a new, more objective perspective. I was no use to my husband at all if I wound myself up to the extent that I imploded under stress. I had been so horrified by my husband being taken away, that I had let his needs completely override everything else.

The reality dawned on me that some of these relatives had been living in this state of limbo for years. Their personal experiences were so useful in making me realise I needed to go back to the drawing board and put up boundaries so that daily life could be more balanced – not so as to forget about my husband in prison, but to ensure all the family, whether they be aged parents, grown up siblings or young children, were allowed to live their lives too and not feel guilty about doing so.

In the end, I did speak at the meeting - something I didn’t think I would do. The other people were kind and understanding and really good at giving out practical advice in coping. Nothing was off limits.

I left that meeting on a high. For the first time in a year, I did not feel alone.

I would certainly recommend to anyone to have the courage to go along and attend these meetings. It is a little window of time just for you, when you don’t have to be strong and paint a smile on your face for the outside world. I shall certainly be going to another one in the future.