By Lisa

Prisoners Abroad works in close partnership with British embassies around the world to provide our prisoner support services. Lisa has been a British Consular Officer in Australia for six years. She is in regular contact with the British nationals held in the thirteen correctional centres in the Australian state of Queensland, and wrote an article based on her experiences there. This article was shared with those we are supporting around the world in our September 2022 prisoner newsletter.

As a Consular Officer, I view our role as to offer a non-judgmental arm of support, care and concern to British detainees. As the consulate has diplomatic status, our calls are classed as “legal calls” so it means that we can get access to our detainees on a regular and confidential basis.

During my phone calls with British detainees over the years I have always felt that they have given me so much insight into what daily life is like behind bars. It struck me that the resilience they display could be shared with other detainees who are in a similar position. During the past two years of dealing with the Covid pandemic, I have asked many of the prisoners in Queensland if they would feel comfortable sharing their positive tips with other British nationals who are in prison around the world.

I was thrilled to receive many heartfelt written letters with their ‘top tips’ on surviving time inside and how everyone wanted to help others who were more recently detained and who may be in particular need of advice.

It was important to give prisoners a platform to express their ‘top tips’ and on subsequent phone calls with them they all told me how much they valued the opportunity to have their voices heard. Compiling this article has given me a deeper insight into life behind bars and, by sharing it in the Prisoners Abroad newsletter, I hope that it will help more than one prisoner, wherever they are in the world, to get through their sentence and to stay positive during this time.

It is necessary to acknowledge that other correctional centres across the globe have different challenges to those faced by detainees in Australia as we are fortunate to have access to good educational, medical and legal support. Similarly, in many countries, language and cultural differences will create barriers to communication which need to be overcome.

But I hope that the detainees in this article have given some tips which transcend those institutional differences – particularly the awareness of mental wellbeing, and the advantages of maintaining physical health and a positive mind set.

Below is a selection of the advice I was sent by British prisoners. I would like to finish with some words written to me by Lee and Stewart:

“Stay strong and keep safe... everyone has made mistakes at some point in their lives... it’s what you learn from them that's the important thing.”

Seeking support:

“Keeping in touch with Lisa at the British Consulate allows me the occasional laugh now and then!” - Dave
“I am warmed by the fact that friends who have been deported back to the UK speak so highly of the support that Prisoners Abroad offers. This lessens the anxiety of returning to a place I haven’t been to for over 40 years and have no connections with. Knowing that there is an organisation prepared to help me get back on my feet when I return is a comfort indeed.” - Michael
“It’s comforting to know that in the event that I am deported, Prisoners Abroad will be at the other end to help me… The letters, booklets, cards and magazines always give me a lift and provide me with valuable information.” – Lee


“There are a lot of men in here just like ourselves trying to put on a brave face, so try and give some support to fellow inmates... you never know when you might need some in return.” - Stewart
“Seek out inmates who are going through the same experience, for example, in terms of being deported. Being able to verbalise my thoughts and feelings with someone who understands what it feels like is liberating.” - Lee
“I made a few friends with other inmates by sharing life experiences and helping them to read and write. Having someone to talk and listen to is a Godsend in here.” - Astley
“Do not be afraid to reach out. It is more than okay to show your emotions; it does not mean you’re weak, quite the opposite. Sometimes you need to let all the stress out and have a good cry. This never hurt anyone, believe me.” – Stewart

Keeping active:

“I try to work out a couple of times a week... healthy body, healthy mind as they say...” - Chris
“Take up a hobby: read, do some artwork or something musical – just keep your mind busy.” - Stewart
“I am allowed to exercise on the weekends and I use this time to keep fit and energise my mind ready for the next week….” - Dave
“Remember to keep active in the mind as well as in the body….” - Chris
“Work, exercise, study and relaxation... these things keep my mind and body active and healthy, which in turn keeps the dreaded depression away.” - Dave
“I got an opportunity to make wheelchairs for the Rotary Club who donated them to developing countries... It was rewarding work and gave me the chance to give back to communities.” - Astley

Being offered a lifeline can change everything. 

Prisoners Abroad translates human rights law into practical life-saving actions by providing prisoners access to vitamins and essential food, emergency medical care, freepost envelopes to keep in touch with home and books and magazines to help sustain mental health.