Robert* shares his experience of his son being imprisoned in the USA.

Can you tell us about when you first found out your son had been arrested, where were you and how did it make you feel?

Some background: my wife and I retired to Ireland in 2018, while our son and daughter remained in the USA. We were in regular contact with both. We found out that our son had been arrested after he stopped communicating with us (phone, email). After several days with no contact, our daughter visited his house, and found a note on the door saying that he had been arrested and was in a local county jail. We were shocked and dismayed, but at the same time not completely surprised, as we knew that our son was an alcoholic, and we also suspected that he was using drugs. It took us several days to locate where he was being held, and to make contact, and we were eventually able to have video calls and start to understand his situation.

How has the imprisonment affected you?

Dealing with our son’s alcoholism had already challenged us and made us wonder whether/how we had failed as parents, and the imprisonment made us wonder even more.

What have been and continue to be the main challenges?

The main challenge was dealing with the constant worry about how he was being treated and coping in jail and prison. Another challenge was deciding whom to tell about his imprisonment, and how to concoct believable and consistent narratives for everyone else, so that we could quickly and credibly answer “How’s your son doing?” A third challenge was the separation between the USA and Ireland, which meant that we only managed two prison visits during the whole time he was incarcerated.

In what ways did you cope with the imprisonment of your son?

Once we had established regular communication via phone and email, we gained a better understanding of how he was managing and feeling and were somewhat relieved to learn that he was doing OK. It was also an ironic pleasure to be able to deal with a clean and sober son, as that allowed his true personality – funny, perceptive, interested, and interesting – to shine through. We were pleased that he showed a lot of initiative in jail, taking as many classes as possible, starting and running a Narcotics Anonymous group, giving advice and talks on managing diabetes, and helping inmates with forms, letter writing, and finishing high school qualifications, etc. All these positive activities helped us cope. The two prison visits also helped, as we were able to see our son in person and were relieved to see him healthy, positive, and in good form.

Did you and are you still experiencing isolation or stigma – from society or friends or family?

We did go through an initial self-imposed period of social withdrawal, but gradually got on with our life, and when the time felt right, we told our close friends and family about our son’s imprisonment. This was a great relief, and our friends were all extraordinarily supportive (several wrote character references for use at his sentencing hearing).

How did you first hear about Prisoners Abroad?

I found them by researching organisations that could help UK nationals held in overseas prisons and made contact via the Prisoners Abroad website in March 2021. I also contacted the UK Consulate and kept them updated on our son’s status, and they in turn liaised with Prisoners Abroad.

In what ways has Prisoners Abroad been able to help your son?

He appreciated receiving the Prisoners Abroad newsletter while he was incarcerated, and read it cover-to-cover to get a better insight into how other prisoners cope, what his release process and re-integration into society might be like, and how Prisoners Abroad could help.

Can you describe the support Prisoners Abroad has given you? And how this has helped you cope with your situation?

We too found the Prisoners Abroad newsletters and other documents and leaflets very informative and helpful. We also participated in several Zoom sessions organised by Prisoners Abroad with other parents/siblings/partners of UK nationals in overseas prisons and found these very useful and made us realize that our son’s situation was not unusual, and in some ways was better than many others. The Preparing for Release session was particularly helpful. Hearing from other parents helped us feel less isolated and alone, and part of an albeit virtual community all dealing with a similar challenge, in a supportive, non-judgemental way.

Can you talk through the process of your son returning to the UK, the hurdles, issues and successes?

Our son was released from US Federal Prison on his birthday in December 2022, and the UK Consulate staff were very helpful in coordinating his transfer from prison to a halfway house, and arranging for an emergency travel document (as he had lost his passport). Because of the nature of his crimes and as he was not a US citizen, he would have to be deported back to the UK, and this apparently required attendance at Immigration Court – which was scheduled for January 2024! We worked with the UK Consulate and our son’s US Public Defender, and they were able to arrange for him to avoid the court appearance and to self-deport (we paid for his US/UK airfare). The UK Consulate and Prisoners Abroad then worked closely to ensure that our son would be met in Heathrow. Our son wrote an article on his UK arrival experience that was published in the Prisoners Abroad newsletter which details his immediate hurdles, issues, and successes. Since then he worked with his Prisoners Abroad Resettlement Officer and has really appreciated all the support which has led to him getting Universal Credit, a passport, and long-term temporary accommodation. He took a 10-week employment course and has now accepted an excellent job offer starting at the end of October.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We are eternally grateful for all the support Prisoners Abroad has given us, as it has helped us get our son back on an even keel, and ready to get on with a full and productive life. Knowing that Prisoners Abroad was there to offer excellent and ongoing support enabled our son to get organised, and to proactively take advantage of all the services and amenities available to people in his situation. This helped us too, as we wanted him to take charge of his life and make the right decisions, and having Prisoners Abroad there to support him gave us a great deal of confidence that things were going in the right direction.

*Name has been changed.

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Prisoners Abroad helps family members affected by a loved one’s imprisonment by providing one to one support as well as hosting family support groups around the country and arranging overseas visits.

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