If you haven’t seen an episode of the National Geographic TV show Locked Up Abroad, then you may be unaware of the frightening legal situations travelers can face abroad.
While browsing television channels last week, I came across the Locked Up Abroad episode, “The Real Midnight Express”, which captures the story of Billy Hayes’ imprisonment in and escape from a Turkish jail. You may be familiar with a version of this story due to the popular film adaptation Midnight Express (1978); though on this series, Mr. Hayes is able to give us the true account of his experience:
In 1970, Mr. Hayes was studying in Turkey. He was sentenced to four years in prison, on an island off the coast of Istanbul, for attempting to smuggle hashish across the Turkish border. Near the end of his jail time, the Turkish government prolonged Billy’s sentence to life in prison. Desperate to escape a lifetime in jail, Mr. Hayes escaped the prison and rowed across the Marmara Sea to shore, crossing the Greek border after days of exhaustion. The border guards halted the delirious Mr. Hayes, and deported him to the U.S. after investigation. The U.S. Embassy was unable to assist Mr. Hayes during his trial or incarceration.
The show is now on its sixth season. Each episode features the story of one individual’s arrest, kidnap, or incarceration in a foreign country, most of which are fueled by drug possession.
Let’s go over the take-away points. DON’T do drugs abroad. DON’T buy, carry, deal, or smuggle drugs abroad. If you must do drugs, you should STAY in the United States. Why?
The U.S. Department of State lends travelers some healthy reminders of what can happen to them if caught with drugs abroad (taken from U.S. Department of State Tips for Traveling Abroad):
- persons caught with illegal drugs in a foreign country are subject to the drug laws of that country
- few countries provide a jury trial
- many countries do not permit pre-trial release on bail
- pre-trial detention, often in solitary confinement, can last several months
- prisons may lack even minimal comforts, such as beds, toilets, and washbasins
- diets are often inadequate and require supplements from relatives and friends
- officials may not speak English
- physical abuse, confiscation of property, degrading treatment and extortion are possible
- persons convicted may face sentences ranging from fines and jail time, to years of hard labor, and even the death penalty
- penalties for drug possession and for drug trafficking are often the same abroad, so possession of one ounce of marijuana could result in years in a foreign jail
A few more tips on dealing with drugs abroad…
- Be aware of your bags while traveling. Pack luggage yourself. Keep it secure. When flying, avoid checking your bags to prevent being framed with drugs.
- Check your pockets before using public transport or crossing borders.
- Do not cross borders or drive across borders with someone you don’t know.
- Do not carry anything through customs for anyone else.
- Do not accept mysterious packages. Be cautious accepting gifts abroad in which drugs can be planted
- Be wary of corrupt police.
- If you carry medicine, keep the doctor’s prescription readily available.
- When in doubt, leave the situation.
Many globetrotters also consider themselves risk takers, but dealing with drugs abroad is a risk you don’t want to take.