Family and friends of a Vancouver man serving a life sentence in the Philippines have started a fundraising effort to try and make things more comfortable for him in the maximum security prison where he is locked up.

In October, a court convicted 31-year-old Jesse Johnson of attempting to import MDMA into the country while he was visiting the Philippines on vacation in 2011.

According to a fundraising page set up on his behalf, police arrested Johnson at a post office where prosecutors say he was attempting to pick up a package containing 30 grams of narcotics.

Media reports from the Philippines at the time of Johnson’s arrest say the package had a return address on Fraser Street in Vancouver.

"I don't know the entire story of the arrest and the details of the case against him,” said his mom Vangie Johnson, who insists her son is innocent.

Johnson was recently transferred to the New Bilibid Prison, which houses 20,000 inmates in a facility built for just 8,000.

Friends and family say Johnson has to pay for food and even a place to sleep in the prison.

"The thought of him locked up in another country where he doesn't have any friends or family and limited resources, it's very shocking, very surreal,” said longtime friend Forrest Missar.

As his family explores options for getting Johnson back to Canada, his mom is thankful for the friends who organized the fundraising effort.

"He's not safe,” she said, unable to hold back tears. “I want him to just keep his head down and be good and kind to everybody."

Reaching out from the prison, Johnson also became emotional upon learning of his friends' efforts.

"The support thus far has brought tears to my eyes. Thank you all so much,” he said in a statement.

Johnson’s case is now before the Philippine Court of Appeals. If that effort is not successful his family will appeal to the Canadian government to request the rest of the sentence be served in Canada.