By Robert

Robert arrived in the UK after serving a prison sentence in France. Read how the support he received from Prisoners Abroad helped him to build a new life for himself.

I arrived at Heathrow around 5pm, one chilly Saturday in January. There was no fanfare or anyone waiting for me, not that I really expected there would be. My two French Police Escorts, who had remained mostly silent for the entire journey from France, announced their purpose to a Border Control Guard.

The escorts went to their own waiting area, while I sat quietly in mine, the one for those whose entry needed investigating. So there I sat, next to an Italian couple and a slightly nervous-looking young man who was clutching his carry-on bag rather tightly.

During my thirty minutes or so, I was asked various questions as to who I was and where I had been. Then, the guard, who had been calm and understanding, said that the police did not wish to interview me and that my bag would not be searched. I could go on my way, so I headed off to find my bag that contained all my worldly goods.

What is often left out of polite conversations about deportation is what a deportee leaves behind. Wives and husbands, children and parents - your familiar and established life is now far, far away and you have become a stranger in a strange land.

Without doubt, the forced separation from all that you know, is one of the toughest things a person can ever go through. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do it completely alone as Prisoners Abroad were there to support me along the way when I needed it.

I spent around fifteen minutes looking for my bag, until I asked someone for help. That’s when I discovered that my bag had not been transferred between the two flights I had taken. My escorts were too confident in French airport procedures and had failed to ensure its safe arrival. It would follow around 9.30pm, and would be delivered, free of charge, to where I was staying that night.

Slight catch, everything I needed to locate the hotel, the booking reference numbers and the full address was in my late arriving bag. I remembered enough of the address that the baggage handlers could verify it. Thankfully, my bag arrived early afternoon the next day.

I spent around two hours on the tube, travelling up and down and peering at the slightly different coloured lines on the tube map. These didn’t seem to help as much as I had hoped. However, I eventually emerged from the bright lights of the Underground into the darkness of night. I then started what ended up being an hour’s walk to the hotel as I had got off one stop too early.

I eventually found the hotel at around 10pm, checked in and went to find the nearest chip shop.

My day had started at 7.15am when I said goodbye to the friends I had spent two years with. By midnight, I was in a comfortable bed and ready for sleep.

There are still plenty of surprises to come. If I had thought that the hard part was over and that a new bright and shiny life was waiting for me, I was forced to think again. England had reluctantly welcomed me, and as far as it was concerned it owed me nothing.

When a deportee arrives in the United Kingdom, whichever law they broke abroad is matched to the UK’s equivalent, if one exists. My UK criminal record now indicates the crime of which I was found guilty and that I spent 2 years in prison. This has definite implications in terms of searching for and getting a job. If an employer asks during an interview, I have to tell them that I am an ex-convict, and with a certain amount of detail. If I don’t disclose this information when asked, I risk being arrested and taken back to prison.

This all sounds really horrible, and it is. Mainly because the ‘time-in-prison, deportation, start-a-new-life’ routine is really tough. However, it didn’t last as long as I thought it would and there were ‘up sides’.

Prisoners Abroad has helped me to navigate the new Universal Credit system. They have also helped with getting my health checked, sorting out my council tax and generally ensuring I’m getting things right. With the aid of the Job Centre and a mentor from the National Enterprise agency, I am excited to say that I will soon be starting my very own business.

Being self-employed is something I’ve always wanted to do and now I’m getting the support I need to make it happen.

It’s easy to view deportation as the end of the world, because for a while it really does feel like it is. However, I now see it as a new beginning with many groups, charities and support organisations just waiting for you to get in touch. And of course, there are the weekly meetings with a Resettlement Officer at Prisoners Abroad. Something I always look forward to. Be assured, help is on hand if you ask for it.  

I am now in a position to start a new life and to leave the old one behind me. I will take one day at a time and enjoy my freedom!

Offering the chance for a new start.

Prisoners Abroad supports people who return 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.

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