The obstacles and challenges faced by prisoners overseas, their families and people returning to the UK at the end of their sentence are many and diverse. 

Each of them needs help in finding a way through the maze of hardships and confusion that imprisonment creates not least of which are foreign jurisdictions, language, stigma, harsh conditions, distance, culture and exclusion. 

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.

We provide books and language materials so that our service users are able to communicate with other prisoners and prison staff when faced with an otherwise impenetrable language barrier. In countries that are culturally different from the UK, these materials help prisoners maintain their emotional and mental well-being. We offer freepost envelopes to all prisoners to help them stay in contact with loved ones. Sustaining positive relationships can help people deal better with their imprisonment, manage the dark loneliness so often experienced due to distance from home. Importantly these family connections can also mean prisoners have somewhere and someone to return to at the end of their sentence.

You have helped me translate documents; sent me magazine subscriptions that helped pass the time in pre-trial solitary; provided me with educational books so I can begin a new life upon my release; and most important of all, you have given me a little peace of mind in all the mayhem by just being there. 

I am sure that in the mental picture that you had earlier, 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.

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.

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