By Tony

Tony spent almost 11 years in prison in the USA. During this time, he struggled to remain positive due to the intense isolation he experienced. He was far from his loved ones - particularly his mother, whom he was very close with - and spent time in solitary confinement. His prison was also filled with people of many other nationalities, which meant he struggled with a language barrier. With the help of Prisoners Abroad, however, Tony was able to maintain vital connections with the outside world throughout his sentence, which has helped as he creates a new life for himself in the UK following his deportation.

When the bus first pulled up outside the prison, I saw five layers of razor wire ahead of me. The sight of it filled me with dread. After this moment, I barely saw the sun for the next four years.

My name is Tony and I was imprisoned in the USA for almost 11 years before being deported. I spent the first four of these years held in a county jail awaiting trial. I didn't know what lay ahead or how much time I was facing, so I was in a constant state of limbo, and not being able to see my mother - or even natural light - meant I really struggled to stay positive.

Inside, I shared my section of the jail with 72 other inmates. This was an open-door environment with no bars, which was incredibly overwhelming and meant I never got any privacy - the noise was incessant and all of my senses were constantly on high alert. After I was sentenced, I was moved to the private prison system because I was due to be deported. This was just as intense; I encountered 80 different nationalities in the first six months and there were so many cultural and language differences that it was very hard to integrate.

You're surrounded by 4,000 other inmates - a huge melting pot of everyone you could ever imagine – but I was one of only 10 Brits so I felt incredibly isolated.

Prisoners Abroad helped to make this period more bearable by sending a music magazine subscription, newsletters, birthday and Christmas cards, and freepost envelopes to keep my mind occupied and remind me that I wasn't alone. Unfortunately, throughout my sentence, the prison grew stricter and stricter - at the end, one of the only things still allowed in was the Prisoners Abroad newsletter, and I know their caseworkers had to work really hard for these to reach me.

Thoughts of my family - particularly my mother - were what kept me going on most days, but trying to stay in contact with them whilst thousands of miles away cost money I simply didn't have, because the phone companies who operate in the prisons charge the maximum they are allowed to. My savings disappeared long before I was released, and the cost was a huge burden for family members, too.

It is incredibly destructive and so cruel. Prison just naturally breaks all your relationships down; you start to see the signs and the cracks.

 I knew people whose mothers died while they were in prison, and I know I wouldn't have been able to cope with that because my mother was always my best friend and my biggest supporter.

In fact, I am most grateful to Prisoners Abroad for their support of my mum. A particularly lonely time for me was when I was put in solitary confinement for several months and was only able to talk to my mum for 15 minutes a week. Being isolated for so long took a huge toll on my mental health, and my mother was particularly worried for me during this time, but knowing that Prisoners Abroad were there for her to lean on lifted a lot of the guilt and anxiety away from me.

After my deportation, Prisoners Abroad was invaluable in setting me up. They helped me prepare for release, told me where to go and what to do when I arrived back in the UK, got me into emergency accommodation for a couple of months, and helped set up my universal credit application. I had no money to fall back on, so would have been at a complete loss without that guidance.

Prisoners Abroad helped me to find safety. Having somewhere to live is so important, because once you’ve got that you can start getting your mindset right, but it’s hard to do one without the other. 

After all of Prisoners Abroad's support, I'm in my own flat now and I love it - it’s absolutely perfect for me. Prisoners Abroad even sent me a moving in card signed by all their staff. I enjoy having my own space after all the years crowded in one place with other people. My main acquaintances are those I work with and I have a lot of time for them. I took part in Prisoners Abroad's Work Preparation Programme and they referred me to another charity who gave me some training whilst I volunteered for them as a peer advisor. I now hold a Level 3 qualification in Information, Advice and Guidance, and I've since joined the charity as a caseworker.

I had a lot of good buddies before I went to prison, but when I got back to England, no one that I knew before wanted anything to do with me. I had friends of 50 years who ignored me. These were people who I thought would always be there for me, so it was painful - and a real surprise - to have them turn their backs on me. The only friends I’ve got now are those I had good relationships within prison. We’ve all been through a hugely traumatic experience, so we know where we stand and there’s no pretence. I also have one friend from when I was 18 who has got back in touch with me - I’m eternally grateful for that friendship, which gives me reason to hope.

I know firsthand how very difficult it is to integrate back into society. The loneliness of a prison sentence stays with you long after you've been released. I’m 67 years now, but I've prioritised getting back on my feet and getting myself trained, and I want my contribution to be positive.

Being offered a lifeline can change everything. 

Prisoners Abroad translates human rights law into practical life-saving actions by providing prisoners access to vitamins and essential food, emergency medical care, freepost envelopes to keep in touch with home and books and magazines to help sustain mental health.

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