One of our volunteer drivers shares his experience of driving to prisons around the country, helping to unite devastated families for two-hour long prison visits.
Prison visits can be a gruelling experience with an average of a 120 mile round trip , deep scrutiny, checks by dogs, body search which can be emotionally exhausting as well as expensive. We found that many of our beneficiary families weren’t seeing their loved ones because they couldn’t afford the visit. In response, we set up our transport scheme, where volunteer drivers take families to and from prison visits, helping to make a difficult day just that little bit less stressful.
In this post, one of our drivers shares his experience of travelling to prisons around the country, helping to unite devastated families.
I first heard about HHUGS when I was under a T-Pim (Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measure). It’s similar to a control order that meant I was electronically tagged, I had to report regularly to the police station, I was restricted in my movement and travel, and I couldn’t use my phone or internet freely.
It was an extremely difficult time for me and my family. It didn’t matter to the community that I hadn’t been charged of any crime. For most of them, being under a T-Pim meant I was guilty – so they stayed far away from us.
We lost a lot of people we thought were friends, and when a brother got in touch to tell me a charity called HHUGS wanted to support my wife and children, I was shocked that, in the end, help had come from complete strangers.
‘I was keen to give back’
Once I’d been taken off the restrictive T-Pim regime, it became really important to me that I helped other brothers who were facing a harsher version of the order. Some other measures included enforced curfews and being ordered to relocate from your home to another city. I couldn’t imagine how difficult this would be with a family.
Becoming a HHUGS volunteer was a practical way for me to provide support. I was keen to give back to the organisation that helped my family in our time of need.
‘One wife didn’t see her husband for a year’
HHUGS was desperately in need of drivers, and as someone who owned a car, I knew I could help with this. A few times a month, I drive families to their prison visits, so they can see their loved ones.
What you have to understand is that when someone is imprisoned, it’s normal for them to be placed in a prison that’s hundreds of miles away from home. That means when wives, mothers, and children want to see their husbands, sons, and fathers, they need to have the money to pay for train tickets and hotel costs.
Usually, they don’t have the money – so these important visits don’t happen. I know one wife didn’t see her husband for a year because she couldn’t afford the costs that came with the visit. She had children too, so they didn’t see their father for what must’ve felt like a lifetime.
‘I’ve had aunties cry the entire journey home’
I volunteer to drive families to prison visits so they don’t have to worry about the complexities and costs of travel. I could be taking them anywhere, from Belmarsh in south east London to Long Lartin in the Midlands.
The visit is hard enough without them having to deal with the crippling pressure of missing trains and finding their way around a city they’ve never been to before.
It’s my job to take on this pressure for them. I panic about finding the prison on time so they don’t miss even 10 seconds of their two-hour visit. I fear taking the wrong turn or getting stuck in traffic, so they have the space they need to deal with their emotions.
On a few occasions, I’ve had aunties cry the entire journey home. I’ve listened to their hardships and struggles, even though I find it difficult. I search for words of comfort that I know are completely useless. Still, I do my best to ease their pain.
I often wonder what these families would do if they didn’t have HHUGS’ volunteers driving them. How long would they be forced to go without seeing their loved ones?
Are you ready to make a difference?
Sadly, there aren’t enough of us. HHUGS has a shortage of drivers, so families aren’t getting the support they so desperately need.
HHUGS is looking for people who want to make a difference. Drivers are important to helping families maintain their relationships. Without us, children don’t get to see their dads, wives don’t get to see their husbands, and mothers don’t get to see their sons.
We’re providing much more than a car. We’re giving families the comfort of being able to see their loved ones. We’re giving them two hours of respite in a life that is otherwise tinted by constant sadness.
Don’t worry about expenses. HHUGS always offers to reimburse me for petrol and lunch costs, which is really useful for long journeys.
You don’t have to spend a penny. These families just need a few hours of your time.