We heard this and fell immediately into depression about what has happened to us.
“We don’t know how life would be without HHUGS, we cannot say. It was our necessity to find HHUGS.”
Aunty Sadia and her husband, Akhtar, were closest to their youngest son. Out of their three children, he had been particularly dear to their hearts, making a point to always be there for them. Aunty had tried to instil an Islamic upbringing in all her children but it was her youngest son who had taken her advice on board the most: praying five times a day, reading the Quran regularly, but, at the same time, working hard at university so that he could pave his way in life and make his parents proud in the twilight of their lives.
One night, Aunty Sadia and her husband sat awake waiting for their son to come home. He never usually returned late, because he knew his parents would be anxious and couldn’t sleep without him. But as the hours went by, without any sign of their dear son, their restlessness gave way to intense worry. Trying to hold themselves together, they began making calls to friends and family, to ascertain his whereabouts – only to discover he had been arrested. It would be days before they managed to locate his whereabouts.
“We were very shocked. We didn’t know what to do. We heard this and fell immediately into depression about what has happened to us.”
Aunty Sadia’s home was raided, and she and her husband were forced to leave for a week.
“They said, “we have to search the house and you have to move out”…we asked them, we (said), “we don’t have any place to go”.
In their frail age, having to leave home only to return to find it had been turned upside down, caused them long lasting distress.
The next few years were drawn out, filled with stress, anxiety and hardship for Aunty Sadia and Uncle Akhtar. Without their son, they struggled to pay the bills and make ends meet. When people visited their home, they described it being ‘stone cold’ because Aunty could no longer afford the gas bill. As the years went by, Aunty and Uncle became increasingly unwell. With problems with his eye sight, Uncle Akhtar struggled to see, and after injuring herself while attempting household chores or cooking, Aunty struggles to manage basic household tasks.
“We can’t afford so much…There is a lot of pressure on both of us. We always remember him. He used to always care for us and be with us. Even from inside (prison), he always worries about us.”
For years, they were both consumed with grief; constantly remembering their beloved son and longing for him to be there with them.
“It affected me a lot, I think about him all the time, when will he come back.”
If their sadness of the fate of their youngest was not enough, Uncle and Aunty were then tested with the loss of their eldest son, who tragically lost the battle with cancer. Overwhelmed with grief, Aunty and Uncle desperately wanted to visit their younger son in prison to find some solace at this time. But the physical, financial and practical constraints made their longing impossible to fulfil.
“150 miles distance between you and son, so it’s not possible for us to go there.”
That changed, however, when their son learnt about HHUGS through another prisoner and Aunty and Uncle accepted their offer for support. HHUGS knew that seeing their son could restore some hope in their lives and so, they arranged prison visits. That meant that where Uncle could not drive because of his sight before, a volunteer driver would now come to collect the elderly couple and drive them miles so that they could see their son, waiting patiently for hours for their visit to finish and accompany them back home.
“We cannot go that far to meet him without support, so HHUGS helps us. Now we can go at least a few times a year to see him.”
It was heart-breaking to learn from the keyworkers visiting them, the conditions that Aunty and Uncle were living in. So HHUGS began to support the family financially, providing food vouchers, bill payments and support with winter fuel costs, so their home could be warm once again.
“They do very good work for those that need the help. It gives them relief and alleviates their depression.”
Like many families of prisoners, Uncle and Aunty struggled with the increased costs of supporting a loved one inside. Having to provide clothing, books and money to call back home, created an immense strain on their purse strings. But with HHUGS’ help, providing financial support to the family, they restored faith for Aunty and Uncle.
HHUGS knew they needed emotional support, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, someone to turn to for comfort while their son was gone; so that was where HHUGS’ dedicated keyworkers stepped in.
“The key worker is very nice. She calls to check on me. She treats us like her parents. She does a lot from HHUGS’ side.”
The one thing Aunty and Uncle had craved most since their son’s arrest, was the feeling of being part of a family. HHUGS social support scheme gave them small reminders of what that felt like. During special occasions like Ramadan and Eid, HHUGS sent gifts and Qurbani. They invited them to gatherings with other families to celebrate; gatherings with the HHUGS family.
“HHUGS host Eid parties; they invite a lot of people. They do coffee mornings and gather many people. This is very good. People get together and talk, and then we feel better. We get relief when we see people at parties; we get to share our stories, it makes us feel better.”
It may be years before their son will be released from prison, but until that time, HHUGS will remain by their side, supporting them every step of the way.
“We don’t know how life would be without HHUGS, we cannot say. It was our necessity to find HHUGS. We do not have a family here. Without HHUGS, we would not have been able to meet our son. HHUGS are doing excellent work, meeting people and their needs at their doorsteps. They help people who are desperate like us.”