By Angela

Angela wrote an article for the most recent prisoner newsletter to explain how much of a sense of community these newsletters bring to her, and what this means. She shares her story on how she ended up in prison in Japan and describes the support that Prisoners Abroad and the consular staff at the British Embassy have given her.

I want to start by saying hello to all of you in the USA, Japan, Spain, France, Australia, and Thailand. Yes, there is a reason that I’m mentioning all of these places instead of simply saying “hello everyone”, and it’s because whenever I see someone mention Japan in Prisoners Abroad’s newsletters I think “oh, that’s me”.

Recently I received a bundle of Prisoners Abroad newsletters, some really old dating back to 2016 (post of this kind can be really unreliable in Japanese prisons). I got the one where everyone wrote in about Covid. Seeing your stories I feel like “oh I know him, oh I know her”. Then I began to notice that when I go to the creative pages I actually look at who the piece is from before looking at or reading it. Of course I don’t actually know you, but I guess the newsletters really do give a sense of feeling that I’m not alone.

I only read your stories on paper, but seeing you be creative makes me feel like I’m not only doing my journey but doing yours with you. It gives a real feeling of togetherness.

There is a lady in Japan (where I am) whose poems I look out for and I know when our work gets published we feel a sense of achievement. I wanted to let you know that this is the beginning of your work not the end, because it gets read by others and has a huge effect.

I cannot even explain how moving some things have been and how they have really changed my mindset by triggering emotions I wasn’t aware of and just really helping me reflect on things. I couldn’t believe how much such a little thing could change my outlook. It makes me feel amazing so please keep sending in your work. One thing is for sure; I’m looking out for you.

I want to share a story about my past experience and also about the stress I encountered when I was detained.

When I was detained and then finally charged, I had been held in custody for nine days without a phone, so I couldn’t even call a lawyer. When the police interviewed me they asked if I wanted them to inform the British Consulate. I thought “what the hell is that?”. I only said yes because they mentioned the word ‘British’. I have no clue about lawyers, rights, or the justice system. I was really confused, thinking “what happens next?”

So after one night in the detention centre I woke up to discover that I had post. I didn’t know who it was from as nobody knew I was there. It was from the British Embassy, explaining everything. I felt like crying. I didn’t know anything about the British Embassy, and I definitely didn’t know that they helped people in my position. I have to admit I am not very clued up.

My troubles all started when an ex-boyfriend of mine told me to move to France with him, as he grew up there. I couldn’t speak a word of French but went anyway. When we got to France we both started drinking a lot, and, on occasions he would become very violent. I lived with a constant black eye.

One day he attacked me so badly that his family called the police to get him arrested. The police took me to a hospital where I was treated and the doctors said the case should go to court. I refused but my injuries were so bad that they didn’t need my permission.

When it got to court we turned up together and I played the loving girlfriend, so he got off. I carried on living with him, and with constant abuse. I thought I had no way out: no passport, no money, no contact with anyone else. We lived about a two hour walk from the nearest town.

The abuse got a lot worse, but I managed to escape eventually with the help of my son’s father and his wife, who was my best friend. My mum also helped by covering the costs they had to pay to come and get me. There were lots of costs: travel documents, tickets, petrol, as well as food.

Within the hour I was on the ferry with two people I loved waving goodbye to a life of abuse, and for once I was crying because I was happy. It cost my mum £3,000; to some people this isn’t very much but to my family it’s a lot!

It’s stupid to think I lived with abuse because I didn’t know about the help the embassy could give, and even more stupid that I could have walked to the ferry port in France; it was in the next town and the ferry would have landed a stone’s throw away from my house in the UK.

That chapter of my life ended up leading me to Japan. I was in a vulnerable position at that time and ended up getting arrested. Now I’m stuck in prison here and I’ve really seen what it means to be British.

Prisoners Abroad cover so many important things I couldn’t otherwise pay for, from medicine to meditation guides. They care for and support our families when we are in prison, and even help them to book visits. The list really is endless; I’d keep going but I doubt I would be able to finish.

It’s not just Prisoners Abroad that makes me feel proud to be British, it’s the fact that we actually care for each other: the NHS is fantastic along with all the doctors and nurses that put in long hours for our benefit. The government help all kinds of people whether they are pregnant, have mental health issues, or are coming out of prison only to be homeless. In my hometown there’s even an organisation who go around giving hot meals and sleeping bags to the homeless.

And finally I am so grateful to the British Embassy and consular staff.

I want to take the opportunity to mention the woman who works with me. I tell you she’s amazing. I couldn’t use one word to describe her because it hasn’t been invented. I admit I am so much hard work, always demanding. Really, I have no idea how she copes. Sometimes I think she’s going to tell me that she is handing my case to someone else.

For nearly two years now she has been my ‘Ellen’; that’s not a real name but basically since the beginning I named her after my favourite person in the world, Ellen DeGeneres, and it helps that she’s actually American too. I changed her name slightly once I found out how hard she had been fighting on my behalf… so she’s now known to me as ‘Ellen Tyson’.

But really, she’s not just an embassy worker; when I have a problem, she’s ten steps ahead and taking it higher. She’ll do everything in her power to find a solution to fix a problem and if she doesn’t know how she will just keep going. She’s great!

I would like to add that the story I told is a tribute in a way. After my son’s dad and his wife saved me, we spent a few days together, which was the first time this had happened in two years as they lived quite far away. Well, after he left us he passed away the week after. God has crazy ways of working.

I truly believe that what happened to me was meant to be and that he was supposed to save me. I am always grateful that I got a chance to say goodbye and so did my son, and he’ll always be remembered as my hero.

As for the violent ex-boyfriend, he quit alcohol when I left. We stayed in touch; he’s a good person sober and is sorry for what he’s done.

To everyone in prison abroad; keep writing and being creative. I will look out for your work in the next newsletter.

I wish you all good health in the awful time of Covid. Much love from a fellow friend who’s inspired by you. And no, my embassy worker is not for sale haha.

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.

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