By Samantha*

When Samantha first found out about her son's arrest, she got in touch with Prisoners Abroad to ask for support. It is not uncommon for people in Samantha's son's position to experience these challenges on return from prison - however with help from Prisoners Abroad, after a period of turmoil, things often begin to get better and returnees feel able to start building a positive new life.

You asked me to tell you about when I first found out my son had been arrested in a European country. I can remember it well. I was at home, one of my other sons took the call.

I felt sick, weak at the knees like I was going to collapse, horrified, winded, it was so physically and emotionally upsetting.

I then had a couple of calls from the embassy and the high commission the following morning and was told that I had been designated one person at the embassy as my contact. However, I still had no way to contact my son directly yet, which made me worry. The next call I received I was told that he’d been given 4 years.

I managed to get in touch with him and I tried to help over the phone. My son and I were then left liaising back and forth in a panic to find out what had happened and what to do.

My other children were very supportive, and everyone began helping. I tried to quickly find out whether my son could appeal his verdict as I understood we only had a certain number of days to do this. When I went to see a lawyer, he told me the initial 12 days had passed so it was too late to appeal the decision, but I was informed we could pursue something called a constitution order.

My son was being kept in a segregated part of the prison, so I wasn’t able to visit him yet. He was then moved to another wing and visits were allowed. So I travelled back and forth to the country where my son was in prison. The first 5 or 6 times I tried to sort out a lawyer who could actually help – in the process I got ripped off a few times – the lawyers would say they were spending time ‘organising things’ but then didn’t do anything proactive – it was really distressing.

A year went by trying to help my son and get him both the help he needed and work towards a release date.

My son’s co-defendant was released after a year, so we started working with his lawyer instead. A few months back and forth and many thousands of euros later he won the appeal.

In total my son was in prison for 18 months. While he was there, family were going out to see him as much as possible so he had a fair amount of contact, but nothing compared to the isolation he felt – upset about his situation and being so far from home.

He was anxious about everything and was asking questions all the time - he just couldn’t relax. When his co-defendant left it got harder, but he did have other people in prison to support him, he’s a well-liked person and making friends has never been hard for him.

Nothing has ever affected me like this before. I have been so emotional.

I could talk to people about things though, and my family was really helpful. Early on, someone from the high commission gave me information about Prisoners Abroad. When I went to one of their support groups, some of the people there had loved ones doing really long sentences. I felt sad for them but it was good that we all had each other in a shared space.

I received supportive letters from the Caseworkers at Prisoners Abroad, and they sent my son papers and magazines – these were really helpful for him as he knew he had support from somewhere else, as well as me.

Since my son has been back, his mental health has been terrible. He’s particularly scared of going outside and is very unpredictable, changing like the flip of a coin.

The first few months he was back were particularly difficult, as he was very up and down.

A lot of this was to do with his ex-girlfriend who really wasn’t helping things. She said things that would bring him down, when instead he needed a positive environment and supportive words.

In terms of support, Prisoners Abroad are still there for my son, checking in regularly with both me and him to provide help. They gave him housing advice and sent him resources and names of specialist organisations that could help him with the emotional distress he is going through.

He was able to access some dedicated mental health support but that has finished now and he still needs help. As a family we are trying to pull together and be there for him, but this has been really really difficult given the state of mind he is in. I’m just hoping that he continues to try and help himself get better. It has been an awful 3 or 4 years.

His friends come round when he’s in a bad way and tell him they love him and they are there to support him. I can’t praise these boys enough. My son listens to them and I can see him turnaround.

So that’s where we are now: my son is out of prison and back home but is struggling with the reality of life after imprisonment. The trauma that people face after being institutionalised can be just as awful as prison itself.

He has got stronger recently, which I’m pleased to see and has been calmer, especially in the last few days. He chain smokes which I don’t like but I know it’s a way of coping with the stress.

* Name has been changed to protect identity

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?