By Andy

Andy’s perspective of overseas imprisonment is an unusual one; he was transferred to serve a sentence in the USA having first spent time in prison in Morocco. We wanted to share his story with you as it demonstrates the huge difference in prison conditions between countries, and is an example of how varied our overseas support must be in order to provide the right level of care to so many people around the word.

For the first time in my life I was looking forward to prison – in fact, I couldn’t wait. Of course, I was already in prison, but a severely over-crowded Moroccan prison, where conditions and facilities are a far cry from many other countries.

I’ll never forget my first day when I was given four long thick heavy blankets and thought “why so many?” because it was 40C degrees. Little did I know that I was going to be sleeping on the cockroach-infested floor and there were no mattresses. I soon got used to eating with my fingers and squatting over a grubby little hole in the floor to go to the toilet. Of course there was no toilet paper, just a little tap to wash myself.

During the excruciating twenty months I spent languishing there I only ever saw myself three times in a mirror… So needless to say, I could not wait to be extradited to New York, despite the fact that I was facing very serious charges and potentially more time behind bars.

Without any prior warning the guards came for me at 10am one morning. I was taken to reception where three policemen were waiting to escort me to the airport. Three agents were there to greet me and, even whilst shackled, it was a relief that I was able to fully communicate in English for the first time in ages.

I remained handcuffed and wedged between the two beefy agents for the whole eight-hour flight, so I made the most of the in-flight movies to pass the time. It was just a pity I wasn’t able to take advantage of the other available services and enjoy a gin and tonic (or three!)…

The golden rule for anyone being transferred is that you are not permitted to talk to the accompanying agents about your case, so there wasn’t a lot of chit-c chat. Eating whilst cuffed was challenging but not impossible, and what a joy it was to eat familiar food again.

Once we touched down at JFK airport in New York, we waited for all the other passengers to disembark first, but as we were seated in the very back row they didn’t have to walk past us, so being gawked at wasn’t an issue. We were greeted by two marshals who efficiently escorted us directly to an immigration official, passing all of the other queuing passengers - it made me feel like an unlucky Monopoly player having thrown a double six and going straight to jail! I was duly processed in a side office: fingerprints, photo, DNA and iris scan, the works.

Thirty minutes later, I was whisked away to a waiting SUV conveniently parked right outside the terminal exit. It was now 6.45pm EST. Another forty-five minutes and I was being processed again inside the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Centre (MDC). Unlike Morocco where you could wear your own clothes I was now subjected to a vile-coloured chocolate brown jumpsuit, brown t-shirt and blue plimsoles.

In the grand scheme of things, this was just a minor adjustment and didn’t phase me at all considering I’d just spent twenty long, tedious months hearing and seeing nothing but Arabic; I was almost overjoyed that I could finally understand what was being said to me.

After completing the formalities in the reception area, I was escorted to the fourth floor intake unit. By now it was about 9pm and the unit was eerily quiet as everyone was already locked away for the night. I was still on Moroccan time - 2am- feeling extremely tired and wanting to sleep after a long and exhausting day.

I anxiously waited while the unit guard allocated me a bed and I was blissfully relieved when I was given a clean, empty cell. I was overwhelmed with the simple normality: an actual bed with a mattress, a proper toilet with toilet paper, a table and chair, and a mirror. All these seemingly basic utilities that we take for granted but which had been non-existent in the prison I had come from. The piece-de-resistance was seeing the illuminated Manhattan skyline from my bomb-proof window. It was hypnotically mesmerising, and I was soon fast asleep.

The morning brought a surreal perspective. I could now see the iconic Empire State building and it felt very weird seeing cars driving along the expressway - cars containing people going about their daily lives completely oblivious to us poor locked-up souls staring down on them. I almost felt normal and free, in my mind at least, considering that all I had seen for nearly the last two years were overcrowded cells and 40-foot high walls.

A week later, I was transferred to the eighth floor. Ironically, from the outdoor terrace exercise yard there you can see the Statue of Liberty, standing in all her majestic glory just a quarter of a mile away across the Hudson river. Of course we are constantly reminded that there’s no liberty from our standpoint…

Fast forward three months, and I am still appreciating the new changes to my daily prison routine and the small comparative comforts, but, like everywhere else, the wheels of justice turn prohibitively slowly.

The newspapers that Prisoners Abroad send me are greatly appreciated. I had a very pleasant surprise last night when the guard unlocked my door and gave me a two-week old copy of the Sunday Times (my favourite newspaper of all). Needless to say it really made my day. I immediately put my book down and delved right in!

I would like to say a massive thank you to Prisoners Abroad. It’s these little things that count and make a huge difference to mundane prison life – wherever you happen to be.

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.

Can you help to support our life-saving work by donating today?