By Jason

Jason had not set foot on British soil for 30 years when he was deported to the UK following an 11-year prison sentence in Thailand. He shares the emotional turmoil he faced throughout his sentence and in coming to terms with leaving the country he called home for one he knew next to nothing about. With the help of our Resettlement service, Jason is now in the process of forging a new life here.

I left the UK when I was four years old and moved to Thailand with my father. I lived a normal life going out with friends; I didn’t have much care for anything - I just enjoyed life. In 2010, things took a turn very quickly, as my father sadly died and three weeks later, I was arrested and sent to prison.

When I was 23 years old, I was sentenced to 37 years and 9 months in a Thai prison for possession of a small quantity of drugs. I didn't have to serve my full sentence thanks to amnesties later granted by the King, but I was still 35 by the time I was released from detention.

Conditions in Thai prisons are very harsh, but the first prison was local and I didn't find it as difficult as other foreigners might have because I spoke the language and had grown up in Thailand. I wasn’t in touch with any other family members, so I didn’t have any financial support apart from the grants I received from Prisoners Abroad. I had to learn to budget and make tough choices about what I used the money for, but I don’t know what I would have done without it.

I was then moved to another prison and spent the next seven years of my sentence in the toughest high security prison in Thailand. For the first six months I was held in a cell of around thirty prisoners, sleeping all squeezed on the hard ground with no bedding. We had no access to outside space and there was no window. For six months I didn’t see any daylight.

From there, I was moved along with some other prisoners to a different building for what could only be described as military training. This was gruelling and punishing, people would burn out and faint. Many couldn’t handle it. The only thing that got me through this was that everyone had to do it - no one was singled out.

After six months in the training camp, I was placed with the wider prison population for the rest of my sentence. This was very difficult to begin with as it was hard to settle in and get to know people, and the prison was big and intimidating. Due to the length of my sentence, I thought I would never leave prison.

The first couple of years I found it very hard to come to terms with this, and it was beginning to destroy me.

I became unwell and lost a lot of weight. At first, I didn't understand why, but there were diseases all around and it turned out I had caught TB. I was moved to the hospital wing of the prison and this is where I woke up to my situation and realised I needed to readjust my thinking, or the sentence would get the better of me.

I used the time and found things to keep myself occupied; books really helped. Adjusting my thought process to life in prison was the only way I could manage - I needed to do it for my own survival. I decided to only look forward, never back.

After some amnesties granted by the King over the years, my sentence was reduced from 37 years to 10 years, of which I had already served 11 years and 7 months. This meant I was released and moved to the Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok. The conditions in IDC were even worse, but I knew I was going to be deported to the UK quite soon.

I had no idea what my life would be in the UK. I left at four years old, and although I had some family members here, I didn’t know them.

I was returning to a foreign country, and I had no idea what to expect. I knew nothing about England.

Although I speak English well, I’m still not confident writing in English. When I was in a police cell before my flight, I had access to a mobile phone and I used YouTube to do as much research as I possibility could on the UK: places to visit, what London looked like, what transport was there, how to use the London underground. When I arrived at Heathrow airport, I visited Travel Care and then made my way to Hammersmith on the Tube, which was an experience. You go down underground in one part of London and pop up in a completely different part of the city. This was the first time in years I had walked on roads. It was busy and chaotic; I felt very strange. I remember it being very cold.

Before returning, I was really fearful – in fact, I didn’t want to leave. I was so used to my prison routine. I knew Prisoners Abroad would help but didn’t realise how much. I thought I would get a few quid and some clothes and would be on my way. I didn’t expect them to help me financially right up until my welfare benefits started.

Without Prisoners Abroad, I don’t know what I would have done. It really felt like Prisoners Abroad wanted to help me, and it gave me the confidence to get things into place, a fresh start.

Prisoner's Abroad's help with basic things - access to benefits, a national insurance number, SIM card, opening an email account - was so important to me. When you don’t know how to do it, it would be easy to give up.

I’m seven months into my new life in the UK and I have my own place which I’ve settled into, and a part time job at a sports centre which I am really enjoying. It’s difficult to budget as the money from the government isn’t enough but I’m trying to be as sensible as I can. The one tip I would give people coming back to the UK: don’t smoke or drink when you first arrive, as it drains your money and destroys your focus. It’s just not worth it. Learning to cook is also really important; use cheap ingredients to make yourself meals instead of going to McDonalds.

To clear my head and stay fit and healthy, I run regularly. This has really helped me keep on track with my goals. I only ever look forward now. It’s tempting to look back on your life before prison or during, but I find it’s best not to look back and feel sorry for myself.

I have learned to feel good about myself. I have a chance to live my life and I don’t want to waste it.

Offering a guiding hand

Prisoners Abroad supports people who return to the UK after prison; we find them somewhere to stay, provide grants for food and travel, and help them take the vital steps to a new life.

Can you help to support our life-saving work by donating today?