A family member writes

No-one can ever prepare you for the pain and stress that occurs when a loved one is incarcerated.

It is a thousand times harder to deal with, especially when your loved one is in prison abroad, with different systems and rules. It’s particularly hard as you are unable to visit them, to see them and provide them with emotional support during the duration of their sentence.

My younger brother was away from us for approximately three and a half years, and in the initial stages it was so difficult for the family as we were unaware of why or where my brother was detained. He was not eligible for legal aid, so we had to find the money to instruct a solicitor for him. When one was appointed the solicitor was selective on what information was shared and it became difficult due to the language barrier. As my brother’s case was ongoing he was unable to divulge this either so this made things so hard to try and understand or to help him. My brother lost both of his businesses as a result of being in prison, unfortunately I was unable to maintain them and after paying for staff fees, products and rental fees for nearly two months I had to be realistic and pull the plug. Initially my brother was happy to sign over the business for me to take over as the company director. However, after giving it some serious thought, I could not take on the financial and emotional burden. I also had a full time job, so I was unable to commit to it 100% like my brother did. I also didn’t fully understand how a business was run and it wasn’t something I could be passionate about like him, as it was his vision and his dream.

Subsequently, I had to try to sell some of the business stock and equipment to try and retrieve some of the money back that I had paid for out of my savings, but the money that was obtained from the sales was not even a quarter of the amount that was spent overall. It was difficult for my mum to watch as she wanted to keep all of my brother’s belongings, but there was no storage and this was not practical. I had a hard task trying to reassure her that this was the only option and that this had to be done but she did not see these items for what they were. She associated these items to my brother and felt that we were getting rid of his assets. I believe deep down she knew this was the sensible move but she was trying to hold on to what she could so that he could pick back up the pieces when he eventually returned. My mum missed out miserably as she used to work alongside my brother daily and during this time she had made a lot of friends and enjoyed socialising with the customers.

For a long period of time my mother would question her parenting skills and whether she was to blame for this happening, I had to reinforce that she had not done anything wrong and that all of her five children were successful in their careers, had good morals and values and that we all had unconditional love for one another and that this was rare in most families. Equally, I had to reinforce that people do make mistakes, some more than others and that people learn from their downfalls but it didn’t mean that they were bad people; they just made bad choices.

The hardest thing for me was to watch my mother’s health deteriorate and watch her slowly regress and decline to the point where she was frozen and her life was put on hold for three and a half years whilst my brother was away.

Mum was constantly miserable, she was broken and she could not progress with her life until her son arrived home safely. She would often confide and tell one of my sisters that she did not feel that she would be alive to see her son return home and this was heart wrenching to hear. The only way I can honestly explain how I felt about my brother being in prison abroad, was that I was grieving for my younger brother who was still alive. I had mixed emotions as I was worried for his welfare and well-being but equally I was so angry at him as the family as a whole were also suffering and we were doing the sentence alongside him.

It’s by the grace of God that my brother is still alive; there were two scary occasions where my brother could have died whilst in prison. On one occasion he lost half of his body weight due to contracting TB and when we were sent a photograph of him whilst he was in hospital he was unrecognisable and had a skeletal feature. I will never forget staring at his gaunt face, his eyes bulging out of his face, his predominant high cheek bones and the green hospital gown that was ill fitting and fell limply off of him. He was denied basic medical care and treatment when he requested help. He deteriorated so badly that one of the inmates had to carry my limp and lifeless brother; this guy persistently screamed for help and demanded that the emergency services were called. This same inmate carried my brother down the stairs to the doors where the ambulance was waiting to receive him. Our family are forever grateful for this inmate’s courage and determination as my brother is convinced that he would have died due to his health complications and did not believe that he would see us again.

It is so sad as on both occasions when my brother was admitted into hospital we were never informed by the prison about this, it was only after noticing that my brother had not called daily which was a regular occurrence for him that we contacted the British Consulate to contact the prison to find out about his welfare.

Whilst my brother was in prison one of the hardest things was hearing him often disclosing the ill treatment he was experiencing whilst being in prison and being victimised for making complaints. We all felt powerless, but had to notify the appropriate authorities of this so that it was recorded. We tried to be positive and motivate him not to give up and to stay strong, and I believe that by us being our brother’s voice by informing Prisoners Abroad and the British Consulate constantly and being persistent that we were able to eventually get him home. Prisoners Abroad helped both my mother and brother with emotional support, information and my brother had often shared that he was so grateful for the stationery he received such as paper, newspapers and Sudoku puzzles.

As the eldest out of five siblings I tried my best to hold the family together as best as I could and reassure the family that everything would be okay, but I’m not going to lie it was hard for us all emotionally, psychologically and financially. It is so hard to express the worry, pain and suffering that we all endured during the time my brother had been away from us, he would call Mum daily but as it was an international call he was limited to only 2 minutes per day. It was nice to hear his voice, but how can you summarise what was happening in a short time scale. It was also frustrating as my brother would shout at other inmates to be quiet so he could talk and within seconds the call would be ended. I remember multiple times that my brother would be ill-treated by the prison staff, denied his basic human rights, denied health care and was often sanctioned for challenging the injustice that he experienced. As a family we spent thousands of pounds that we honestly didn’t have on legal fees to help my brother’s release after doing three quarters of his sentence. It was a long drawn out legal process.

Communication was also difficult due to the language barrier but due to being persistent we were able to get a successful outcome. We also had to send my brother money to eat and survive as he had health difficulties which meant that he was allergic to certain foods and needed to survive on canned food that he could purchase from the canteen, this was so expensive but we all had to make sacrifices to make it happen.

Finally, although my brother is now home safe and sound we still worry about him as his health is still compromised. The dynamics of the household have changed as he is now different as are we and we are still getting to know one another. It will take time for us all to adjust and heal, but although my brothers sentence is now complete the impact of his experience will forever have a lasting effect on all of our lives.

I want to sincerely thank all the staff at Prisoners Abroad for being there for us all, not making judgements and offering endless guidance and support during the whole duration of my brothers sentence and the aftercare he is receiving from the resettlement team to integrate back into society.

Combating stigma helps reduce isolation.

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.