Written by Jamie

I was arrested in August 1983 and did not see my freedom again until 12th February 2018 – I was incarcerated for over 34 years. Then upon my release from State Prison in California Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took me into their custody and I was removed from the USA back to the UK. My removal is a ‘Lifetime’ ban. This whole situation may not have been so much of a shock, except for the fact I had spent 63 years in the USA, for most of it believing that I was a US citizen, having left the UK when I was only 6 months old.

Adding to the change in culture and society is the fact that I was a stranger to how much technology had changed during the long year I was in prison.

I had never used a mobile phone – the closest I came to them was that in the early 1980s many US homes had cordless phones that did not have to be connected to the receiver. However the drawback was you could only walk about 12ft away from it before you lost your connection. There were mobile phones in government cars, but they were not very efficient.

Then take computers – in 1983 there were no home types and most would fill a whole room to run. No internet, Facebook or email. When I first went to prison I had access to manual typewriters, about 1987 I was able to use electric ones and in 1993 I took an ‘Office Services’ course which introduced me to world processors and storing information on discs. Finally in 1999 I was given basic training on the working of computers and had an Apple type to do my job as a clerk. From then until released in 2018 I continued to become familiar with computers, even believing that this skill would make my transition into the real world much easier as I had progressed all the way to using the Windows 2000 programme. What I had not taken into account was that the computers I had been using were all ‘stand-alone’ – I knew nothing about using the internet, the need to use emails to claim benefit or ‘googling’ to find the answers to any queries I might have.

Prior to my incarceration credit cards were often used in emergencies or by businesses and ATM machines had only become commonplace about 6 months earlier. Now ATM/cash machines are everywhere, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who did not possess either a credit or debit card. I have discovered that whether it is wages, pension or benefits, a person’s main source of income is nowadays mainly paid into their bank account, so a piece of plastic to access it is a necessary tool of life.

For me I think the thing that has been the hardest to adjust to is how many forms, applications and contact can only be done online and in many cases only by email. I have struggled to adapt to the fact that I cannot have a face to face discussion, especially when dealing with agencies involved with approving and providing benefits.

Although Prisoners Abroad has kindly provided me with a cell phone I have even had difficulties using that. Pressing the wrong button has resulted in deleted messages and aborted calls, particularly when I first arrived back. Though my phone has a camera I learned, after taking numerous photos, that my phone didn’t have a memory card so they were not saved. I guess that does give an idea of what I have been faced with these last 3 months. Technology is certainly a steep learning curve for me – but I am getting better, I hope!