Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Prisoners Abroad

I met Pauline Crowe and her dedicated team at the Prisoners Abroad offices in Finsbury Park, London last Friday.

Jayne, Alex and I travelling down for Kathryn’s hen party, arrived at Euston Station at 2.50pm. The offices were only three tube stops away. Fortunately, Alex who lived in London while she was at university was able to negotiate the tube. Jayne and I trailed behind Alex, a tall slim girl with a similar build to Kathryn, carrying our weekend bags and cases.
“Do you think we’d have got on the right tube?” I asked Jayne.
“Of course we would,” Jayne said. “But we would probably be going in the wrong direction.”

After asking about Jon, Pauline explained the problems prisoners have in some of the developing countries, where they are unable to speak the language. They have no one to talk to, nothing to read and live in isolation. The jobs in the prisons are usually given to local prisoners, so they can’t earn money. If their families have disowned them, or haven’t got the financial resources to help them, they have nothing or no one.
“They are the forgotten people,” I said thinking of a comment Dan made.
“That’s where we come in,” Pauline said. “We can get them a small grant to help with necessities such as toilet rolls and soap. In some countries they have to buy their own food. We can give advice on how to get legal assistance.”

She showed us shelves full of donated books. Piles of magazines and newspapers sat waiting, ready to be posted to some individual who has no knowledge of what’s happening on the outside. I shuddered thinking of the misery.

“It’s something that happens to someone else, someone else’s brother, son, partner, no yours,” I said. “It’s only when it lands on your doorstep that you give prisons or prisoners a thought. That’s how I felt. It doesn’t happen to people like me. How wrong can you be?”
“It happens to people right across the board,” Pauline said. “There’s no class distinction.”

I talked to Gareth, who is going to help Jon with his rehabilitation.
“What’s interesting about Jon’s situation,” Gareth said, “is that you expect awful conditions in developing countries, but not in prisons in the USA. His blog has highlighted that.”
“Yes, if you read the first six months of Jon’s blog describing the conditions in Joe Arpaio’s jails: cells crawling with cockroaches; lying in your own sweat in a cell with no air-conditioning in 120 degree temperatures; your body iching with sweat rashes; being fed on food past its sell by date, throw outs from the supermarkets, rotten fruit and suspect meat, you can hardly believe its happening in the richest country in the world. It’s shameful.”

“How is Jon?” Gareth asked.
“He talks about nothing but his release. He has so many plans, but I think he’ll have to take things slowly. Perhaps you could help him with that.”
“Yes, you get excited prisoners thinking they’ll do this and that, but sometimes it’s more difficult. Adjusting to being on the outside can take some time.”
“It’ll be a period of adjustment for us all. But I want him home so much. I can hardly believe I’m even talking about his homecoming after all we’ve been through. That what we’ve been praying for is almost a reality.”

“The thing with Jon,” Pauline said, “is that he wants to come home. He wants to be deported. Many of the prisoners fight it, especially if they’re being deported from the USA to here. Usually their families moved to America when they were young and that’s where they were brought up. They commit a crime over there and get deported back to the UK, where they have no relatives or support. They do everything they can to stop their deportation, even refusing to sign their passports.”

In her office there were four and five cases and bags. I looked at them, thinking of the prisoners who had gone off to find lodgings, relatives or some kind of support.

“Sometimes the relatives in the USA come to the airport and cause a fuss trying to prevent the deportation. That’s why you might not be told which plane Jon is coming home on. You may just get a phone call from an airport to say he’s here.”
“Even though they know he just wants to get home.”
“It depends what the communication is like at the immigration holding centre.”
“What about getting clothes to him?”
“Again you’d have to contact immigration."
“As long as he’s out, I don’t know if he’d care what he wears,” I said, thinking of Jon sat on the plane grinning from ear to ear.

Jayne and Alex listened fascinated by a world far removed.
“Do you get money from the government?” Jayne asked.
“Yes, some, but we have to rely mostly on private donations.”
On the tube to Kathryn’s apartment Jayne said how impressed she was with the quiet dedication of the people we’d met at Prisoners Abroad.
"I'd like to do some fund raising," she said.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Attwood


Nici said...


I found you through 'Jons' journal and just wanted say Hello.

I originally heard of him through a magazine that Prisoners Abroad sent me while I was sitting in a US jail.

I have been back in the UK for 18 months now and have to say that after 15 years in the States I still feel a little like a tourist. It has been a hard adjustment and I couldn't have done it without family.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

p.s. Can you let Jon know that I sent him some books last month but for some reason they were returned to Amazon.

joannie said...

Strangely enough I was alerted to the circumstances of prisoners being deported through a completely independent source. I was at a wedding reception talking to the wife of an acquaintance. She is originally from London and has lived her adult life in the states.

But she has a friend whose son was deported. He's married and has children, so the situation is just awful for everyone concerned. I didn't know that was even a consideration in all cases where a person is a legal alien? Particularly someone married.

Just another area of prison life that thankfully someone is actively addressing.

tslandry said...

Jon is blessed indeed to have you all to come home to! I am praying that his release goes forward without any problems....

His latest post made me cry, sometimes it hurts us the most when we realize how much our mistakes have pained those we love. It has been that way for me and the pain my actions have caused my parents. Jon is blessed by your love, and he knows it!

Richard said...

It's great to hear of organizations such as Prisoners Abroad doing such great work. My hat is off to them, and I will do some research regarding making a donation - and encourage others do to the same!

Anonymous said...

I work for a telephone company in the USA that has put together a website which allows expats and tourists to make calls from various countries back to their homeland (to offices such Social Security, Veterans Affairs, etc.). We are represented by British Telecom experts, AT&T experts and various other PPTs in many other countries. You can view how we make available free calls to the UK Veterans Affairs offices at: http://01800.01-800-555-1212.com where you will see we offer these international calls for free.

We have also set this same system up for prisoners in foreign countries to make calls to their families. Currently we are beta testing this in about ten facilities in Mexico, and have plans to spread it to other central and South American countries, and will be considering countries like Australia, China, UK, etc.

If someone wishes to discuss these possibilities with us, then please contact us at: info@peoplemex.com.

Please be aware that we are NOT looking for funding or monies. We simply hope to receive input as to where our services might be most needed.

Thank you,
Frank R.

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