“ICPO was very important to me…I will be indebted to them for the rest of my life”
Many Irish prisoners overseas find the distance from home very hard to cope with. For James, an ICPO client who recently returned from the United States, maintaining contact with his family was crucial: “The thing that kept me going while I was in prison was my family and the people that knew me well. That support was very important.”
James has always maintained his innocence and says this kept him going. He had been working in the United States for several years before he was arrested: “I knew how things ran in that country, but I didn’t know anything about how the prison system ran. It’s easy to end up in prison in the US and very hard to get out”. During his sentence he tried to stay away from gangs and other things going on within the prison. “I kept busy and had a set routine. I kept myself to myself … It was hard- I was living in a cube, with the next person two inches away from me.”
James made an effort to stay in touch with his family by phone, but it wasn’t easy, especially given the high cost of international calls to Ireland: “There were only a few phones in the prison so it was always hard to get on one, but when you did it was a huge relief.”
James spent six years in prison and during that time his wife and daughter visited him four or five times. Due to the conditions in the prison they found the visits very difficult and upsetting so James told them not to come any more. He was moved to a more remote location and from then on received three visits a year- one from his brother, one from his ICPO caseworker and one from an Irish religious sister who was a huge support to him.
It was through this religious sister that James first became aware of the ICPO. An ICPO caseworker remained in regular contact with James and his family throughout his sentence, supporting them in relation to different issues that arose. “It was a big help. I could write to my caseworker and she would call my family, fill them in on what was going on…I enjoyed reading the [ICPO] newsletter, it kept me up to date on what was going on at home”.
James’ caseworker also made representations on his behalf, ensuring he received remission time which had incorrectly been taken away from him. “ICPO was very important to me. They came to see me, advocated on my behalf…I will be indebted to them for the rest of my life.”
The years he spent in prison were difficult ones for his family: “It was very hard on my wife and she got quite depressed, but the kids rallied around and supported her and that kept her strong.” While James was in prison there were several deaths in their family and this was very hard on all of them.
James was immediately deported to Ireland following his release. “The day I was released, it was the greatest feeling. I was so glad to be out of there.” With the support of his family he has been able to get back into a normal routine. He is anxious to get back to work as soon as possible and is focused on the future with his wife and children. “I have my family and that means the world to me”.