By a family member

A family member shares their experience of supporting a child imprisoned abroad. Our caseworkers, Family Support Groups, and volunteer telephone support line helped them through what can be a very lonely and stressful time. 

 Shock was the first emotion I felt on hearing that my son had been arrested on a serious charge in a foreign country. We had received a phone call from a friend telling us it was on the local online news.

The second emotion was partial denial, and I had a need to establish the facts, so I rang various police stations in the city I had been told our son was being held. This was not easy as my foreign language skills were only elementary.

Eventually I had the facts confirmed by a friendly police officer who tracked down someone who could speak English (my husband and I have encountered much kindness on this journey). Yes, he had been charged and was going to court the following week.

I realised I needed to contact the consulate for assistance, so I Googled them and got their webpage. It was then that I spied a phone number for an organisation called Prisoners Abroad. I dialled and got put through to one of theCaseworkers.

Our Caseworker was amazing! She came over as empathetic but totally professional, and clearly experienced and skilled in dealing with the situation. This was so reassuring.

Quite quickly we were able to establish where our son was being held. It was very important to my husband and I to write to our son to show him our full support and to tell him that although we were shocked, we were concerned for his well-being and loved him very much and would be there for him.We did this and were very glad to receive a letter from our son within a week or so.

It was crucial for us to set up this positive rapport with our son.

Our Caseworker liaised with the prison and was able to give us the contact details for his social worker who was sympathetic and was able to liaise with our son and give us updates as to how he was doing. This was done through Google translate which was not ideal but worked.

We were able to tell him via the social worker that we had his dog and would look after her until his return, and that many people were offering their support and good wishes, including his employer.

Our Caseworker also liaised with the British Embassy and shortly after my first conversation with her we had a phone call from the Consulate which was most welcome. Prisoners Abroad and the consular staff continued to work together to ensure that everything that could done for our son was being done.

There were many other staff at Prisoners Abroad with whom we worked - all were compassionate and remarkable people.

Once the sentence (three years) was given the week after his arrest, our Caseworker sent us details of options available for our son to return the UK at the earliest possible point (i.e. remission, transfer to a UK prison, conditional release etc.). He was conditionally released at the half-way point. Prisoners Abroad undertook to translate all the documents needed to secure his release.

Our Caseworker had a series of conversations with us to explain how this was done and what the process would involve. We in turn were able to explain all the procedures to our son when we wrote or when we spoke to him on the phone, and we also posted him the details supplied by Prisoners Abroad.

 This was important as we have learned that in prison, lots of information flies about from the prisoners, and in some cases the staff, and not all of it is accurate or true.

When he was in prison, we wanted to send money to our son to buy extra toiletries and food, and Prisoners Abroad assisted us in seeking permission from the prison – another form to complete and translate.

The next set of forms to complete arrived when we wanted to arrange a prison visit and we were assisted again by Prisoners Abroad in completing this paperwork. It was some weeks before we received a phone call from our son telling us that even more forms had to be completed and sent to the prison before we could visit. Prisoners Abroad assisted here as well.

Other areas of support given were liaising with the Consulate to set up video calls with our son, telling us what items could be sent to the prison and explaining the arrangements for taking these items in during a visit, and also informing us of the additional things we could send our son at Christmas.

Prisoners Abroad's contact with the prison social workers and consular staff was particularly helpful as it ensured that the completed conditional release application was submitted in good time.

In terms of support for my husband and I, Prisoners Abroad holds Family Support Groups, which have been taking place online via Zoom ever since the pandemic. I attended several that were very well run by Alan and the Prisoners Abroad Team. Some Zooms were for families in the London area, and others for families whose loved ones were in a particular country. All of these meetings were very supportive and worthwhile, but at times it was harrowing to see the sadness and grief that many people felt about their loved one’s situation.

The ripples go very far but mutual support was there for all. I still keep in touch with some of the people I met online.

Towards the end of my son's sentence I began thinking that it would be beneficial to have someone outside the family with whom to discuss my feelings. Families are not always the best people to come to with problems like these as they have their own feelings to deal with.

I felt that although Prisoners Abroad kept in touch with us regularly, and would have been more than happy to provide additional support, I didn't want to be tying up more of their time.

After discussing this with Alan, he helped me to access Prisoners Abroad's volunteer telephone support so a volunteer could ring up and talk to me. I began receiving calls from an amazing woman who befriended me and just seemed to know exactly what to say to help me cope. She did say at the outset “it will get better” and it did. Without her I wouldn’t have managed nearly as well. This was invaluable support. Such a lovely person.

“Are we alone?” people ask. I don’t know but certainly we are not when we have Prisoners Abroad to take the journey with us. They were always there at the end of a phone and by email.

Our son is home now safe and well and is picking up his life. Coping with a returning prisoner is not that easy I have found, but that is another story to be told!

Creating a safe, non-judgemental space for shared experiences.

Prisoners Abroad helps family members affected by a loved one’s imprisonment by providing one to one support as well as hosting family support groups around the country and arranging overseas visits.

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