Estimated reading time:5 minutes, 39 seconds
Everyone has a story. At the back of a Fonthill Road fashion emporium, Prisoners Abroad tackles the isolation of British nationals imprisoned overseas, while also helping their families here combat the stigma and any anxieties they may face. Here employee, Sam Clarke, reveals just what that means. Interview by Nicola BairdÂ Photos by Kimi Gill.
â€śWhen we meet donors they come to the Prisoners Abroad office through the London Fashion Centre on Fonthill Road. They walk through a corridor of sparkly dresses â€“ it always breaks the ice,â€ť laughs Sam Clarke, Head of Major Donors & Events. For a first time visitor itâ€™s hard to believe the location, but thatâ€™s classic Finsbury Park, an Islington of contrasts.
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Sam, didnâ€™t know much about the organisation, despite living a short walk from the office, until she joined Prisoners Abroad in February this year (2017).
Sheâ€™d been in fundraising since 1999 working at some big charities including Marie Curie and Macmillan, both in Vauxhall; Family Action on Kingsland Road, Dalston; Action for Children, when it was at Highbury Barn, and Scope on the corner of Caledonian and Market Road. But fundraising for Prisoners Abroad, a welfare organisation that raises awareness and keeps British nationals alive in foreign prisons and supports their resettlement upon return to the UK, presents different challenges. During 2015-16 they supported 1,669 Britons imprisoned across the world, in more than 100 countries, including USA, Austria, Japan, Turkey, Thailand and Australia.
â€śA lot of our warmer donors are interested in criminal justice. They get the need for what we do and understand the shocking conditions in prisons around the world,â€ť explains Sam. â€śIt can be a challenge to recruit newer donors if they just see prison in black and white. We need to open peopleâ€™s eyes to the often appalling welfare conditions and loss of basic human rights in overseas prisons. In some countries prisoners have to buy clean water and food. In some prisons a chalk box 2×6 feet is drawn on the ground and thatâ€™s where you sleep, surrounded by hundreds of other people unable to move beyond the lines of their chalk box for up to 16 hours. You can have 400 to 600 people sleeping in what should be the gymnasium because the prison is so over-crowded. Itâ€™s more Midnight Express thanÂ Orange is the New Black.â€ť
You can support people who are having a tough time this Christmas by making a donation here:
5 places Sam Clarke likes around Islington
- La Saporita, the pizza place on 174 Tollington Park.
- Iâ€™ve always lived in cities so I donâ€™t drive. I walk and cycle around. The Parkland Walk is good for a walk â€“ you can go from Finsbury Park to Highgate or along the path to Gillespie Park and then on to Highbury Fields.
- I like the outdoor garden in the Faltering Fullback if you can get a seat in the summer. I always take visitors there because itâ€™s amazing â€“ a five-storey green seating space built up around a tiny courtyard.
- Celebrity watching? I used to see Dr Harold Legg from EastEnders in Stroud Green Tescoâ€™s.
- I live in Corbyn Street but I havenâ€™t seen Jeremy Corbyn there, although I did get interviewed once by a guy from the Guardian who was prowling around the street asking residents our opinion on Jeremy (our local MP) in the run up to the General Election 2017.
As Sam, 48, outlines the three main strands of Prisoners Abroadâ€™s work she helps to fund, she reiterates: â€śWe are non-judgmental because human rights are human rights.â€ť As a result the organisation is able to:
1) â€śHelp people who are detained overseas: we send vitamins, money for clean water, free post envelopes so they can keep in touch with family or with us and reading material. We work closely with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to deliver these services.
2) â€śSupport overseas prisonersâ€™ families, and loved ones, in the UK.
3) â€śResettlement work, which is increasing, especially because of a change in the Australian law. In Australia if you aren’t an Australian national and serve over 12 months in prison, you are automatically deported at he end of your sentence. A lot of older prisoners, over 50, 60 and even 70 years, moved to Australia (or US) as babies with their parents and didnâ€™t take citizenship for their new home. They grew up there and theyâ€™ve got family or businesses there, and no network in the UK. Then they are deported here. When people arrive in the UK they often come straight to our offices from the airport. We can give them money for emergency housing, food and travel and start their reintegration into society. If we didn’t they’d be at real risk of homelessness and potentially patterns of offending behaviour. It’s supportive and preventative work.â€ť
Meeting Sam â€“ and also Yemi Hailemariam, who attends Prisoners Abroadâ€™s Family Support Groups as she waits and campaigns for her partner #freeandytsege – was a brilliant eye-opener into an organisation that does incredible work. They are always looking for funds (of course!) but you can also help by passing on reading material, eg, magazines and even send a birthday card to a prisoner to let them know that they are not forgotten. Perhaps, more importantly in this age of on-line comment, finding gout about Prisoners Abroad is a way to be alert to the sort of difficulties prisonersâ€™ families meet. As Sam says: â€śAnyone of us could be related to someone who has got into trouble or is detained, but thereâ€™s still a stigma.â€ť
- Prisoners Abroad, 89-93 Fonthill Road, N4 3JH
- Twitter @prisonersabroad
Over to you
If youâ€™d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com.
If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at theÂ A-Z Â index, orÂ search by intervieweeâ€™s roles orÂ Meet IslingtoniansÂ to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola