Written by Gemma Sowerby

Imagine you’re travelling, studying or living abroad and you find yourself on the wrong side of a law that you don’t necessarily know or understand. There are always risks to travelling, but this usually brings jet skiing and skydiving to mind, not criminal behaviour. For Tina, this was only the beginning of her story. Imprisoned at the age of 17 in the USA and sentenced to 20 years in prison, she was finding it difficult to cope with her life: “As months passed by, friends and family faded away, and I came to see the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ was true. Being young, abandoned by everyone and thrown away, I lost faith in people.”Going to university, finding a job, getting in your overdraft, paying taxes, finding a flat …We don’t need reminding about the difficulties that await us in adult life. Many people use travel as a tonic to the stresses of reality, especially young people who are seemingly all desperate to flee: whether backpacking in Australia, inter-railing around Europe, or exploring South America with no plan at all; we are all told that broadening the mind and soul is something to be enjoyed in our youth. But it’s not always that simple.

Thanks to Prisoners Abroad, a human rights and welfare charity providing aid, support, and advice to British citizens affected by incarceration abroad, Tina’s confidence in the world around her was restored, due to their “kindness and loyalty”. As part of their work supporting British citizens like Tina, who has since been released at the age of 26, Prisoners Abroad were on hand to help her deal with the realities of adult life once she returned to the UK. If you’d never gone to university, never opened a bank account, never searched relentlessly for a job or a flat, do you think you’d be able to cope after 9 years in a foreign prison?

For most young people in the UK, the pressure is on to either find a job or go to university after finishing school, but the majority have the support of a network of family and friends in doing so, be that financial or emotional — Tina didn’t. After 9 years in prison in a foreign country, with little contact from relatives and friends, Tina’s resettlement will be a challenge. Missing out on those experiences that shape our adult lives is something Tina now has to deal with, but Prisoners Abroad are only a phone call away if she ever needs advice on how to create a new life for herself in the UK.

We’re all anxious about our futures — it’s human nature — but most of us take for granted the support networks we have to guide us through. University and young adult life shaped who I am going forward: I’m ambitious, I want to travel and be successful in my career and my life, and I never considered that some people have had those formative years taken from them. You can’t get them back. For Tina, a new life is only just beginning. Prisoners Abroad helps people like Tina become who they want to be — but it won’t be easy.

So take care when abroad, and do your research on your destination — you don’t want the law to catch you out. Visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s website for information on laws, customs, and more for 225 countries around the world before you travel, and sign up for email updates to stay informed on developments at your destination. Follow @FCOTravel on Twitter and Facebook for the latest travel advice straight to your timeline, and follow @PrisonersAbroad to stay up to date with the work Prisoners Abroad are doing around the world.

If you would like to support people like Tina, please make a donation