Imagine you are standing in line at customs, with innocent holiday thoughts of sun and sand in your head.
Suddenly, a customs agent latches onto your arm and shuttles you aside to a small room down a darkened hallway.
You don’t worry, because you have done nothing wrong. They grill you with questions for hours. No food, no water, just questions over and over.
Then you are told the shocking news: drugs were found in your baggage. You panic. This is not your home turf; your rights are not the same. Your demands for a phone call, lawyer or nourishment are ignored.
When thrown into an overcrowded and stinking jail, your nerves unravel; the nightmare has just begun. An alien legal system is hard to grasp and can treat people like animals, forced to live in unsanitary conditions for years.
You have to prove your innocence. In the end you are charged and placed into another dingy hole, faced with a sentence of several years to life – or even death.
The only comfort you ever receive is the two times a year your family can visit and bring you some necessities that are not provided – like toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, hair brush, writing material and some articles of clothing – basic materials you never thought you’d cherish so much.
Across the world there are foreigners in jail for a variety of mistakes in judgment, and some are completely innocent.
Their families are suffering from the separation, worry and financial burdens imposed by their imprisonment. Many are impoverished and cannot visit or send the basic necessities that are needed.
Foreign Prisoner Support Service (FPSS) was established in 1995 as a volunteer prison service to families who have loved ones interned in other countries. They hope to promote understanding and human rights education for all people through the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
They are the ones to seek out to assist those in crisis and their families hoping to bring them home. They have campaigned for hundreds of cases, provided assistance for families who don’t understand the processes, and advocacy for those incarcerated.
The FPSS is a non-political body of volunteers that receives no government funding.
How you can help:
- Become a “Save a life” member
- Make contributions to FPSS or families of prisoners
- Write to an inmate
- Participate in campaigns, petitions and letters
Their FPSS webpage has information for each prisoner known to them.
Some of the pages are put together by family members, some by the prisoners themselves, and others just by news articles found. What can and cannot be done is listed, along with addresses to write letters, and where assistance for the families would be best suited.
Check the individual’s list or the prison details. Prisons have different standards as to being able to receive letters, items, visits or money.
Read the stories of the struggles that most have to endure. If you have no pity for the ones that have made mistakes, look at the ones who have to pick up the pieces and pay in emotional and financial burdens.
Other organizations working to help prisoners and promote basic human rights:
- Amnesty International — Working for human rights worldwide..
- Committee to Aid Human Rights Activits — Providing humanitarian aid in Cuba.
- Prisoners Abroard — Caring for Britons held overseas.
- Bryggan Abroad Sweden — For Swedes in foreign prisons.
- Fair Trials Abroad — Workng to ensure that EU citizens receive fair trials.
- International Relief Center, Inc. — Providing education and humanitarian opportunities in regions of Cambodia.
- Partners of Prisoners — A charity that helps relatives of prisoners.
Easing The Burden
Travelers who make mistakes are imprisoned for a variety of reasons in many different countries.
It is the innocent who get lost in the shuffle of the systems and politics whose cases are truly tragic. Their families are the biggest victims, having to find their way through massive and unfamiliar legal systems.
They are all too often left in the dark, trying to work out ways to help their loved ones no matter if they are guilty or innocent.
The non-profit organizations listed above are the ones that aid the real victim in most cases. See what you can do to help ease the pressures.
Even the smallest effort can mean all the difference in the world.
What are your thoughts on helping travelers imprisoned abroad? Share your thoughts in the comments!