By Elena, a Prisoners Abroad Caseworker

If someone asked us to think of a lonely and isolated person, I believe that most of us would probably picture someone alone in a room, with no contact with the outside world and no one to talk to. It is very easy to forget that isolation may be much more than the physical contact with another human being.

I am sure that in this mental picture, very few of us would imagine a person going every day to their workplace, running their errands, exchanging pleasantries with neighbours and leading what on the surface may look like a very normal life. And yet, this is the case for many of the 2,000 families and friends that we help every year.

All the members of the casework team, who on a daily basis speak to family members of people imprisoned abroad, are very much aware of the pain that emotional isolation can cause. We know that this is a very particular and hidden sentence that the parents, siblings, children and friends of prisoners have to serve.

Having to deal with something so life-changing as having a loved one in prison whilst pretending that everything is normal, is not only emotionally exhausting but also a very lonely experience.

Every day the casework team tries to alleviate this feeling of loneliness by talking to people that don’t feel prepared to discuss their worries with anyone else. We help with practical things like getting visiting permits in France or making sure that the money they send to Spain reaches their loved ones.

These gestures, no doubt, give peace of mind; they know that there is someone out there that looks out for their relatives in prison. However, we are aware of the fact that emotional isolation is much more profound. It is what prevents many people from taking our phone calls when they are at work, and the reason why so many times we are asked to be vague or to call back again a bit later once they have managed to gain a bit of privacy.

No one wants to be overheard while discussing a son or daughter’s welfare in prison and no one wants a colleague or a friend to guess from their faces that they are discussing something upsetting. The casework team understands the importance of talking about one’s worries and concerns in a safe environment and Prisoners Abroad offers this safe environment. This is why the support we offer is confidential, practical and emotional. Family members know that they can call us any time when they feel safe to discuss any issue that causes anxiety, pain or sadness. Every day we talk to many people who only want to have a word with someone who understands their struggles.

At Prisoners Abroad, we are always trying to find new ways to make our clients more connected and less isolated.

We understand that having a conversation over the phone with a caseworker, is not always enough and so we organise family days and family support groups, so that anyone with a relative in prison abroad can meet people who are experiencing similar difficulties.
We have also set up a confidential family network, so that family members can ask questions or discuss issues with other family members from the comfort of their own homes.

Over the years, Prisoners Abroad has become a bridge between people who would otherwise feel very lonely.

Contacting us helps them realise that they are not the only ones suffering because of their loved ones’ imprisonment.

If you feel this article is a reflection of your current situation, please let us know
by contacting us: [email protected] 0808 172 0098

Or if you'd like to support family members going through this, please consider donating today