It’s a mother’s worst nightmare.
Last year, veterinarian Stacey Addison quit her job to travel the world. It had been her longtime dream and once she saved enough money, she left her Portland, Oregon, home for her first stop: Antarctica.
Nearly two years later, Addison is sitting in a prison in East Timor, jailed for a crime she didn’t commit. What happened?
“She’s always worked hard,” her mother, Bernadette Kero, tells PEOPLE. “She’s played by the rules, she’s very responsible. I don’t understand it.”
On Sept. 5, Addison shared a cab with a stranger from Indonesia into East Timor. Sharing a ride like that is normal in the area and she thought nothing of it, until her companion asked to pick up a package at a DHL office.
But the police, acting on a tip from the Indonesian authorities, were watching and they stopped Addison’s fellow passenger to search the parcel.
They found methamphetamine. Everyone in the cab was arrested and taken to jail.
Addison was searched, her belongings torn apart while officials looked for evidence of drugs. Even her urine was tested. Everything came back clean.
After being held at a detention center for four nights, she was released, on one condition: She was not allowed to leave the country while the investigation continued.
“The person she was traveling with, he said he didn’t know her,” says Kero. “He testified to that effect.” Still, police refused to let Addison leave the country.
Stuck in East Timor, the frustrated veterinarian took to Facebook to share her story.
There was a glimmer of hope when Addison got a lawyer. “Seems like such a basic thing but took a long time and a lot of work to get here,” she wrote.
On Oct. 29, she showed up in court, believing she was going to pick up her passport. Instead, she was jailed again. Her long blonde locks were chopped off and she was sent to Gleno prison, just outside Dili, the country’s capital.
“Even her lawyer’s not getting any clear information as to what’s going on,” says Kero, who can’t figure out why her daughter was arrested a second time.
The worried mom remains in touch with her daughter through U.S. Embassy officials. “I’m able to email the embassy and they take it to her,” she says. “Stacey can write me a letter, they take it and scan it back to me.”
“I’ve been saving them,” Kero adds tearfully.
The most frustrating part of the entire story? Addison has yet to even be questioned in connection with the investigation.
“She’s asked to be questioned,” says Kero. “Nobody questioned her for two months. They say it could take a year.”
While Addison, who celebrated her 41st birthday in jail, waits in East Timor, her friends are working tirelessly to get her freed. Her mom’s set up a Facebook page, Help Stacey, to raise awareness of her daughter’s story, while Addison’s friend, Dr. Angie Brouillette, has written letter after letter to the U.S. State Department, begging for help.
“Right now, we just want her to get questioned,” Brouillette, 40, tells PEOPLE. “All the evidence supports her. Once that happens, the hope is that she could be reduced to a witness in the case and be able to come home.”
“She has said that she’s being treated very fairly in the women’s prison,” she adds. “There are two women in the prison who speak English, so she has somebody she can talk to.”
“She’s extremely strong,” says Kero, “but I know it’s got to be just horribly frightening.”
On Friday, U.S. State Department officials will meet with the Timorese ambassador. Brouillette and Kero are hopeful this will move Addison’s case along.
“I think of her every minute,” says Kero. “I’m laying in bed at night in a nice, warm bed. And then I think of her being in prison. It’s just scary. It’s very scary.”
If you would like to help Dr. Stacey Addison, her family and friends are asking people to like the Help Stacey page on Facebook and to write or call your U.S. State Department representatives to let them know that you care about Dr. Addison and would like her case addressed in as timely a manner as possible.