“I feel I’m serving that sentence with him. I’m serving every day”

Sarah’s first reaction when she heard her son Paul had been arrested in the United States was disbelief: “I kept thinking ‘this can’t be real, it’s not real’. We had absolutely no idea he had gone down that road”.

Her biggest worry was for his safety: “I had a lot of concerns- is he being looked after, would he be hurt, would he do harm to himself, is he eating…” Paul didn’t want to remain in contact with his family following his arrest and asked them not to visit him. This made things harder as Sarah didn’t know how he was or what was happening within the prison: “Not having someone on the ground who could see if he’s alright and the fact that he was able to cut us off even though we knew where he was made it really difficult.”

Paul’s imprisonment has had a dramatic effect on their family: “His brother and sister don’t want to talk about him. They feel all my focus is on him and they’re angry at the situation we’re in because of what he’s done. His granny worries about him and says ‘I hope I’m here when he comes out’.”

Sarah finds she is trying to be careful around everyone. She writes to Paul regularly, but doesn’t know what to say: “I don’t want to give him too much good news as it might make things harder for him, and I don’t want to give him any bad news that would upset him.”

She has been very open with their extended family about the fact that Paul is in prison, but finds it hard to know what to say when they ask about him: “I don’t have any news so when people ask how he’s getting on I’m trying to think of positive things to tell them.”

Since Paul’s arrest Sarah has been under enormous stress. The situation is always on her mind and she has a lot of trouble sleeping. “When I wake up in the morning the first feeling is dread that we’re still in this situation. Going out for a walk with the dog I’m wondering, ‘What’s he doing? Is he getting any exercise?’ I feel I’m serving that sentence with him, I’m serving every day.”

Sarah needed information on how to send money to the prison and she called ICPO for advice. “It was the first time I spoke to someone who knew what I was talking about. I felt a huge burden was lifted. They knew how I felt and could tell me so much about the prison system over there.”

She attended an ICPO Family Information Day and found it very helpful to meet other people with a loved one in prison overseas. “Everyone was there for the same reason … before we were in this situation when I heard about people being arrested I’d always thought, ‘What kind of a background did he come from?’. I’d never give a second thought to anyone related to him and how it affected them”.

Sarah would advise anyone in a similar situation to get help if they need it: “Go and get help sooner rather than later. Find out all the information you can. Contact the ICPO straight away. They’re there to listen and they understand the situation. Don’t feel ashamed. I feel sad, desperate, unable to help him, but I’ve never felt shame. He’s my son. No matter what he’s done, I’ll always be there for him”.

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