By Sonia

When Sonia was deported from the USA in June 2020, she was forced to leave her children and her whole family behind. Prisoners Abroad supported Sonia throughout her prison sentence and when she returned to the UK at the height of lockdown. We guided her through her traumatic deportation and helped her to start rebuilding her life. 

I left the UK in 1975 when I was just four years old so had lived in the States for 45 years when I was told I was being deported to the UK after my prison sentence.

My prison sentence was the punishment in my mind, so it was difficult to process that I was also going to be deported. I was in America legally and had a green card, so I never thought about pursuing my citizenship, but because I had a British passport, I was going to be sent from a country I considered my own to a country I had no ties to. My only connection to England was a couple of hazy memories of school at age four, and my aunt, who still lives there but has dementia and is now forgetting me.

I was held in immigration detention for five months and in all honesty that was the worst stretch of my entire sentence. The way they treated people was much worse than in the four prisons I had been moved between whilst serving my time. We were there because we had done something wrong, but the way they were treating us was wrong. When I was finally put on the plane that would take me away it just didn’t feel real. I was a mess. I felt like a zombie, I was going through the motions but not really there – numb to everything.

And then, when the UK was still in the height of lockdown, my plane landed and here I was; in the middle of a big foreign city that had all but shut down.

I was traumatised when I got here, it was absolutely devastating, my life was 4,000 miles away from me. I left my children, my parents, my sisters, my friends.

I was given a welcome pack with essentials for the first few days put together by Prisoners Abroad and told how to get into London. Umme my resettlement officer called me and made sure I got to the hotel OK. I was crying because I didn’t know how to do anything, but she helped me get everything set up and she told me to rest and that she’d call me back the next day. Since then, she has found me somewhere to live, arranged for access to healthcare and benefits, she’s helped get me back on my feet.

I had been locked inside for eleven and a half years so being in lockdown was what I was used to.

Leaving my family and being away from them is so hard. I speak to them every day. The last time I saw everyone was in November 2019, before immigration got shut down due to Covid and physical visits weren’t allowed anymore.

I was not tech savvy, Umme had to teach me how to do everything. I’d never used a mobile before and I felt very intimidated. I kept crying, but I’m trying to get used to it as you need it for so many things.

Prisoners Abroad put me in touch with a charity and now I’m learning a skill. I go three times a week - it’s good to get up and get out, and the work is very therapeutic.

I was more afraid back in June, but now I have calmed down a bit and don’t feel as scared anymore. Now that I am free, I reflect and try to make myself a better person. I still cry and do get lonely, but I try to think of the Covid situation and that everyone is going through this with me, I’m not the only one isolated.

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?