When I arrived back in the UK last November I can honestly say that Christmas hadn’t even entered my mind. It had been six years since I was last here; now suddenly I was being deported back from the USA with no plan in place for what would happen when I arrived. I landed at the airport with less than ten pounds in my pocket. I had no family or friends to come back to; no-one was waiting for me to return. I had nowhere to stay and only the clothes on my back. Christmas was the last thing on my mind.

At this point I didn’t know how important Prisoners Abroad’s help would be to me, but I would soon learn how invaluable their resettlement service is to people like me, who return from a sentence abroad with nothing and no-one to support us. That is why I have chosen to share my story with you, to thank you sincerely for making this service possible, and to encourage you to continue your support to benefit others in the same situation that I found myself in this time last year.

So I’m on the train and my emotions are running high. I am happy to be free, but also feeling a lot of anxiety because of the shock of being free and back in the UK after so long away.  When I eventually made it to Prisoners Abroad there were a couple of other very friendly deportees in the waiting area of the resettlement part of the office. It was nice to meet other people in the same situation as me, and I soon realised that my absence had been a brief one; I have since met other returnees who were last in the UK thirty years or more ago.

What I received from Prisoners Abroad was amazing; far more than I expected. My resettlement officer Rob immediately paid for me to be put in emergency accommodation, and gave me a basic mobile phone to call the resettlement team when I needed to. It hadn’t even occurred to me until that point that I had no means to contact anyone; I was so worried about not having anywhere to stay. He also gave me some winter clothes, money to buy food for the week and for travel, and a backpack to carry the few items I had. These little things make such a huge difference when you have nothing.

The biggest problem I faced when I arrived in late November was that I had nowhere to live. I thought that I might end up on the streets, and the fear of that happening really affected me. But Prisoners Abroad continued to support me in emergency accommodation until they found me permanent housing in the second week in January.  Thanks to them I always had a roof over my head.

They also helped me decide what I want to do with my life going forward.  In December I signed up to take part in the work preparation programme run by Prisoners Abroad’s job coach Adrian, and the advice I received from him gave me the courage to pursue what I really want to do and start a course to become a qualified electrician, rather than taking the first job that was open.

Prisoners Abroad did so many things for me that I haven’t even mentioned; applications for things that ordinary people take for granted but that are vital for getting returnees back on their feet. All of these things took time and a lot of patience to sort out; it’s a very disheartening process at times. 

It meant that Christmas was an after-thought for me last year. I didn’t really celebrate it, although in December I did attend the resettlement support group that Prisoners Abroad hosted in their office. We had a warm meal, and all of us who attended received a small gift. It was nice to feel included in something festive, and to be with other people who were in the same position as me and knew how it felt to be spending Christmas alone. It was at this support group that I met the man who is now my current boss, so for me it was an even more positive experience.

This year Christmas will be different for me. I have a studio apartment which is small but really nice, and Prisoners Abroad gave me a kettle, toaster, bedding etc. to get me started, which I am so grateful for. I have a girlfriend now to spend it with, and two offers from work to spend Christmas Day with my colleagues’ families. I have a steady job as an assistant manager in a shop, and I have now completed my electrician course thanks to Adrian’s encouragement. Things are definitely looking up, and I am actually enjoying the festive season this year.

I could just keep writing about how happy I am to have been lucky enough to have Prisoners Abroad guide me through my resettlement, but I know there is limited space in this letter. If it wasn’t for Prisoners Abroad I would have been homeless and without any support. I am really grateful for the enormous help I have received, and continue to receive, and I hope one day to put something back into the organisation that has helped me so much. I will be forever grateful to Prisoners Abroad and its supporters.