A speech written by Karen and delivered by her at the London Homelessness Awards

I’d like to start by saying what an honor it is to be accepting this award for such an amazing, one-of-a-kind organization. 

For those of you who may not know: Prisoners Abroad formed in 1978 and is currently supporting over 1000 British citizens held overseas.  They are supporting over 1,600 family members and friends of those being held. From keeping families in touch to fully helping the prisoner resettle back into the UK, Prisoners Abroad is there. They give people who are imprisoned, dignity and hope.

I was imprisoned for 6 years in the US.  During this time I was attending Immigration hearings, trying to find a way to stay in the country I had been in for 32 years.  I never thought they would actually remove me. 

I am blessed to have a close friend, Jeanne, who is a huge advocate for prisoners.  She had heard of a place that could help me resettle back into my country. When I received the reading materials and application from Prisoners Abroad, I thought it was too good to be true.  Who could possibly care about someone like me? I almost threw the application in the garbage, but thought, why not give it a shot. I had nothing to lose. 

They kept in touch with me during my remaining 1.5 years, while I finished my sentence.  I received newsletters and cards every few months. The stories from other people who had walked my path were honest and I appreciated that. They didn’t try to sugar coat how hard this journey was going to be. 

When I finally made the long flight to the UK in June, I made my way from Heathrow to Finsbury Park.  I was welcomed with open arms. I was immediately able to call my family, and let them know that I arrived safely. While there was still so much to do, my resettlement officer said we could do it tomorrow…she just wanted me to get some rest.  She immediately booked me into a hostel, made sure I had everything I needed (clothes, toiletries, etc.) and sent me on my way.

This was just the beginning of a very long list of aid that I have received. From clothing, to travel money, food money, hygiene products and shoes. They helped me apply for my national insurance number, get on benefits, sign up with Crisis and get into my own flat. I wouldn’t have known where to start if it wasn’t for them. Without them, I would be homeless, without a clue of how to fix it.

To be in a compassionate, warm, giving place…to be treated with respect and dignity, those are things that make Prisoners Abroad unique.  Every single person who works in that office is special.  They work as one unit…it’s a beautiful, rare thing. 

So thank you for allowing me to accept this award and on behalf of all of the thousands of people that you have supported and currently support, thank you Prisoners Abroad.

Preventing homelessness is crucial.

Prisoners Abroad supports people who return back 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.