My name is Matthew and I have been a caseworker at Prisoners Abroad for 16 years. A couple of months ago, just before the world went into lockdown, I was able to travel to Thailand and go into prisons to meet some of the people we are supporting there. Conditions have slightly improved since I visited the same prisons 10 years ago, however, the isolation faced by the people I met was still a massive concern. When I greeted the prisoners in person each was at pains to thank Prisoners Abroad and our supporters for the help we’ve given them.

In some prisons in Thailand, people struggle to survive with no clean water to drink and with access to only one portion of almost inedible food a day. In these Thai prisons, British prisoners wake up every day with the very real concern that they may not survive their prison sentence. A few years ago, we began supporting Billy through his imprisonment in northern Thailand. I have always found it hard to forget Billy’s account of his first few hours in prison:

“The first time I walked into my cell was like heading into the lion’s den. The room was big, but not big enough for the 70 people it held. The cell floor resembled a mass grave, with arms and legs all over each other. The smell of human faeces was so strong I wanted to vomit. I saw a motionless body on a damp-stained mattress, insects hovering over him.

My God, I thought. When I dared to look again, my worst thoughts were confirmed. He really was dead...

This was the first day in my new home. As the new guy, I spent that night lying next to the man’s body.

Billy soon began the battle to survive himself. The one meal he was being given daily was just as much a violation of Billy’s human rights as his cell condition. “It was always rice, a liquid of some sort and some inedible meat. It might be a chicken’s head with the eyes intact, sometimes it was a snake. Usually though, you couldn’t even identify it. But we were starving – we just ate it. We had to.”

It’s all too common for Caseworkers to hear horror stories like this, about the things British prisoners in Thailand are forced to eat to survive. One of the prisoners I met whilst visiting spoke to me about what he had to do to add to his portions. He was being given a small amount of food that, like Billy’s, was largely inedible. He told me he would leave the bits he couldn’t eat in his cell to fester, encouraging maggots to hatch where the food was decomposing.

He was so desperate for additional fat and protein that he would eat these maggots in order to feel a little bit stronger.

Prisoners Abroad were able to provide him with a Survival Grant so that he could supplement his poor prison diet.

Prisoners Abroad provides life-saving Survival Grants for people like Billy, who have nowhere else to turn. With the regular payments we sent to Billy he was soon able to buy clean water and food with nutritional value, so that he would not have to survive solely on the meagre food he received once a day. Last year, Prisoners Abroad provided 991 Survival Grants to 348 people worldwide, costing a total of £85,486. We sent these grants to 83 people in Thailand, helping them to minimise the risk of short and long-term illness and ultimately helping them to survive.

It is common for Thai prisons to be rife with overcrowding. As we all diligently adapt to new social distancing measures in the UK, I find it incredibly hard not to think about some of the prisons in Thailand, where overcrowding makes it impossible for prisoners to avoid being constantly pressed up against others. Prisoners Abroad is striving to make sure people have regular access to food, clean water, vitamins, and emergency health care so they can stay strong and healthy as the world battles the coronavirus.

For many of the people we are supporting in Thailand, and globally, Prisoners Abroad is their only lifeline. If you are able to donate today you could support vulnerable people in prison in developing countries. You could save somebody's life.