By Amber Cliffe

We launched our new and improved Online Family Network this year and we are really excited to offer this new platform for family members to share their experiences.

We know that imprisonment brings isolation, separation and grief but we also know it can bring a hell of a lot of stigma to the people left behind. We run support groups and family days around the country giving people a chance to meet others in a similar situation, to know they’re not alone. However for some this just isn’t an option. That’s why we have developed the Online Family Network which is a secure and confidential site that gives people the chance to chat with each other – from the comfort of their home.

Caseworkers answer our helpline numerous times a day and listen to people tell their stories which means we know the different ways lives can be affected by imprisonment. We wanted to create a space for friends and relatives to talk to one another about what they are going through, to remind them that there are others out there who are going through similar things to them. The Network is somewhere to share and read useful tips and information about how to navigate some of these challenges.

Naturally it will take time for the network to ‘take-off’ and for people to feel confident and natural in posting and replying to messages, but in time we hope that families will share their experiences and see the real reward in doing this. We encourage people to post about anything: prison visits in France and what tips are helpful to share including things that people realise they would have liked to known before their trip; a difficult or angry conversation with a teenage daughter who keeps getting asked at school where her dad is; or a father of an adult son who has just received a life sentence and who can’t afford to visit. We also know that the news of imprisonment, especially overseas, can leave family members feeling sick, numb and in a state of shock without knowing who to turn to. The Online Network is space to read about these experiences and share these feelings.

The Network is split into forums and within these forums are topics. The Network enables users to reply to existing messages and threads or create a topic themselves if there isn’t an appropriate post already. It gives users the chance to save posts using the favourite button or subscribe to topics. Just like Facebook and Twitter, the site will notify of any replies to comments (although unlike Facebook and Twitter, the data is secure!).

Prisoners Abroad is active on the site to moderate it and we are updating the Network with news and announcements.

If you think you’d like to sign up or know someone who would, let us know by contacting [email protected] or giving us a call at the office. We can talk through any concerns you have or questions you think you’d like to post. Alternatively you might want to suggest a news announcement or Forum posted by Prisoners Abroad.