The first time I heard of HHUGS was at a fundraising dinner organised by HHUGS and Tayyibun. The event featured many speakers and people of knowledge, including Imam Wasim Kempson. While he was speaking, I sat next to a woman who was a HHUGS beneficiary and we started talking. She recalled how five days after having given birth, her husband was arrested. To this day, I remember the sadness I felt as she spoke. I never once during that conversation expected to find myself in a similar situation…
Looking back, there was nothing unusual about that day. My husband had gone to work as normal. Later, I would discover that he had been arrested and armed police had gone to collect him from work. After five years of working in security, he was arrested in front of all of his colleagues and lost his job immediately afterwards. I came home to find my house had been raided, closed off and I wasn’t allowed to collect anything. I kept calling the police station to understand what had happened, but for three long weeks I never once received so much as a phone call.
It was only a few weeks before the arrest that we had found out that I was pregnant. It was my second pregnancy; the first had resulted in a miscarriage and I lived in constant anxiety and paranoia that something would go wrong again. The beautiful news filled us both with hope and joy but this happiness was cruelly snatched from us. I had suffered from anxiety for a number of years and this was further exacerbated after my husband’s arrest. I was in a vicious cycle of paranoia and trepidation, my fears ranging from my child never setting eyes on their father, to losing my child completely through another miscarriage.
The pregnancy wasn’t easy, constantly being sick and riddled with nausea. I remember one particular moment where I was trying to walk through the high street but I couldn’t take a step without vomiting. With tears flowing down my cheeks, the pain was unbearable. I was ill and my husband wasn’t there to support me, no one was. When I look back at my pregnancy, I only remember sadness and loneliness as my companions.
The uncertainty made things more difficult, I didn’t know how long he would be away from me. To rub salt in my wounds, my solicitor informed me that my husband would never see our baby and that I would only ever see him behind bars. It was truly devastating.
Alone and Abandoned
Suddenly, my friends and family were avoiding me completely. People just stopped answering my calls. My family questioned my loyalty to my husband, ‘how are you going to stand by a man like that,’ they’d say. My aunty even called the police and had them raid my house because she found a lecture about the hereafter in my living room. For weeks, I didn’t have my keys. All my ties were abruptly cut, people just turned and flipped on me so suddenly.
People were saying my husband “should be hanged” and “shot”; I couldn’t read the papers anymore because it made me so emotional. Eventually, the stress of everything took its toll; I kept having attacks where I couldn’t breathe and so I was admitted into hospital for severe anxiety. Although I was eventually discharged with medication, my stress continued.
My financial situation was desperate, I was falling into mountains of debt but no one would hire a pregnant woman and the only benefits I was getting was Job Seekers Allowance. All the money I had left over was used on sending money to him in prison so he could call me and going to see him. I used to take a train and a bus when I was pregnant to visit him which would drain me, not only physically, but financially too.
I remember everything about the first time I went to see him. Bringing all my ID documents, being searched thoroughly, removing my hijab pin because it was seen as dangerous and it leaving my headscarf hanging flimsily. Then making my way through all those double doors to where they brought out the dogs to sniff you. I wasn’t prepared for dog saliva to be smothered over me; it was humiliating and it meant I couldn’t pray afterwards. They were letting people out, two at a time, and each time they’d call a name, my heart would race. When we finally sat down, the time seemed to go so fast and when they announced there was only five minutes left, I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown; my heart was beating uncontrollably, my lips started to shake and when I quickly hugged him goodbye, I burst into tears. The more I tried to control myself, the more I’d cry, I was literally sobbing on the way out and I couldn’t control myself despite the many eyes glaring at me. That night, he called and pleaded for me not to cry, but it was just so hard seeing him like that.
When I went into labour, I think it was the toughest part of the journey so far. I was so upset my baby’s father wouldn’t be there because really, he was the only person I wanted to see and be with. I was in labour for five long days during which time contact with my husband was minimal. Eventually, the doctors told me that my only option was to have a caesarean and so after five days my beautiful baby boy was finally born. His birth brought with it so many conflicting emotions; I was happy and I finally had someone by my side but I was constantly upset and trying to figure out how I was going to raise a child on my own. Looking back, I think I was falling into depression.
Then one day, when I was on the brink of despair, I picked up the phone and made my final plea…
No Longer Alone
When I contacted HHUGS, they were so friendly and welcoming, I was finally speaking to someone who genuinely cared about what I was going through and wasn’t afraid to talk to me. After hearing about my situation, they sent me ASDA vouchers immediately which was such a relief because I could finally buy food for me and my baby. They started helping me with rent payments, without which we would be homeless. They paid for food and winter clothing. I had so much debt when I contacted HHUGS but they helped me pay off my rent arrears, my water bill and my council tax arrears, which lifted a huge burden off my shoulders.
HHUGS began to help me see my husband by driving me there and dropping me home. The visits HHUGS organised were so important to me because I could no longer manage to go by train. When your husband is no longer in your daily life, you really look forward to that one visit. My son would ask me, “how many more sleeps until we see him?”
Eid was empty without my husband. These occasions are supposed to be spent with your loved ones so it was difficult to enjoy them without him. But HHUGS made it easier when they took me all the way to go and see my husband on Eid day. I remember saying to my Key Worker, “how is anyone going to take us?!” but these volunteers, who had their own families to deal with, actually took us all the way up north on Eid and I was so grateful to them for their genorosity. HHUGS even arranged Eid parties where there were bouncy castles, a candy floss machine and lots of activities where my son got to play with other kids. They got us gifts and during Ramadan I received a food pack and a little outfit for my son.
My Key Worker was such a wonderful person; she used to come round even though it was late and chill, without me having to ask her. She was an actual normal friend and that was really nice, because I didn’t have anyone like that in my life. When things were getting harder for me, she’d come and visit me more and she’d visit me in hospital. She even used to teach me how to read Qur’anic Arabic. I used to look forward to the coffee mornings to go and see sisters and eat something nice. Sometimes, you question whether you’re the only one going through this, but having someone to relate to really helps. Just being around people that don’t judge you genuinely means so much.
To help me get back onto my feet, HHUGS paid for some of my driving lessons and I passed first time! Afterwards, HHUGS helped me find a quote and paid for my insurance. Now, I I take a sister to go and see her husband in prison every week, because having a car has given me the independence and empowerment to give back and help others.
Reunited at Last
When my husband was released three years later, it was really hard for him to deal with it and adjust back into society. He was sick all the time, he couldn’t stay out for too long and whenever he’d try to go shopping, he had to come home quickly. He kept feeling like something was going to happen and that everyone was spying on him. We had to move away from our local area to a place we’re not familiar with. He feels really isolated here and hasn’t been able to adjust. The daily visits by police in our home and the tag he was made to wear, only made it harder for him.
My husband had been working his entire life so he found it hard not being the breadwinner anymore and not being able to work. After losing his initial job, he had two successful job interviews, but every time he gets offered a job, the police call up and warn them against him and he loses the chance again.
I believe the families who approach HHUGS really are in need of it. It’s not the families’ fault when their loved ones are in prison but the family seem to get a sentence too. The kids, wife, mother and sisters all have to live without those who have gone, they aren’t guilty so why are they being punished for it? They can’t purchase meat or get on a bus because they can’t afford it but HHUGS are there to help these people. Imagine how much reward you’ll get for helping someone who is oppressed on the Day of Judgement.
For families in a similar situation to mine, I’d say, don’t leave it too long before contacting HHUGS and don’t struggle like I did. I struggled because I didn’t talk to anyone, so don’t leave it as long as me. Even if you’re not looking for financial support, you’ll need the emotional support. And don’t be shy!
HHUGS are like a family to me, I honestly look at them as someone who is close to me and as people who I can trust. There’s nothing like HHUGS out there – you are totally unique!