Catherine's Story

My son Jacob* has been in prison for seven years after committing a crime in a fit of psychosis due to his severe mental illness. Learning how to deal with something like this takes time and strength.

When Jacob was sentenced, my husband and I were psychologically abused by people online in response to news reports. I was blamed for everything: for spoiling Jacob, for neglecting him. I was put in the firing line. Whilst I was trying to support my son emotionally, I was being torn apart at the same time – Jacob had been beaten up in prison and everything was beyond my control; I felt so isolated and helpless.

I was put in touch with Prisoners Abroad, who provided valuable emotional support and guidance. I attended one of their Family Support Groups which they run throughout the year; they offer a safe, non-judgemental place for family members to connect and talk about the often harrowing experiences that are affecting all of us. I could communicate my fears and disappointments without judgement.

I am facing the possibility that my son will never be transferred to the UK due to his mental health. His prison in the US seems incapable of providing uniform care or monitoring his condition and my son needs to be treated as a vulnerable citizen of the country he loves. It seems that our very presence can be therapeutic. On a trip we made two winters ago he was so ill and weeping with psychosomatic pain that he couldn’t even sit up. After we’d been there for four days he was talking and walking; it was fantastic to see the improvement but painful to understand his daily despair and how it was affecting him mentally and physically.

Over the years we have been faced by many impossible choices. We feel helpless in many ways but the frank talk and kind support offered by Prisoners Abroad staff has made many sad years less lonely. I also learned during my son’s initial mental decline that it’s vital for both parents and children to reach for help, which I have done socially, medically and therapeutically. I am capable of reducing my distress but know that for many people it is almost impossible. We support Prisoners Abroad as they work to change attitudes towards the criminal justice system and vulnerable prisoners in particular. Every person deserves to have their basic human rights.