Billy Hayes: "I Prefer Turkish Prisons To Those Of America"
Noyan Tapan, Yerevan
Jun 19 2007
2010 June Update: At the End of the page
Billy Hayes, the real hero of the film "Midnight Express", arrived in Istanbul on a seven-day visit.
At the press conference Hayes declared that the film "Midnight Express" does not reflect reality: "The film has become the cause of having a bad perception of the Turks and Turkey. There are great differences between my book and the film. In reality, I did not kill anybody in the Turkish prison and neither used the expression "Turks are swine" in court. . .
Mentioning the fact that he was subjected to a serious beating on the first night in the Turkish prison, Billy Hayes declared: "I committed a crime. If I had the opportunity to choose, I will prefer Turkish jails to those of America."
The real feelings of the American citizen Billy Hayes lie on the basis of the film "Midnight Express", in which the demoralization of Turkish jails and abuse made by the Turkish authorities are demonstrated. Billy Hayes was detained in a Turkish airport in 1970 on the charge of sedative drug smuggling and since then he has been serving his sentence in a Turkish prison...
Billy Hayes Atones
June 22, 2007
Istanbul recently hosted Billy Hayes, the hero of the film “Midnight Express,” who in 1978 was said to have been seriously brutalized during his incarceration in a Turkish prison for drug smuggling. Hayes, who was in Istanbul, to attend an international security conference was contrite. On the verge of tears he told a press conference that he had to accept his share of responsibility for the damage this film had done. “It created a terrible impression of Turkey and the Turkish people that was not fair to them or true to my experience.
The portrayal of prison and the Turks in the movie was not accurate, and it left the false impression that all Turks were like those in the film,” he said with his voice cracking. I was working as a clerk at the Turkish Embassy in Dublin at the time in order to finance my university education and had to bear the brunt of indignation toward Turkey and Turks that crystallized after Midnight Express hit the big screen in Ireland. Those were also years when intellectuals in Turkey were being sent to prison, and being mistreated – much worse than common felons – for merely reading the “Communist Manifesto.” This was a fact that was widely reported in the western press, but we never got any letters or calls of sympathy for those Turks during the six years that I worked at the embassy. When the subject was a blond haired blue-eyed westerner, however, who was sent to a Turkish prison, the attitude changed immediately. All the latent prejudices that exist about this country, even today, came to play instantly. Billy Hayes' book was too good a chance to miss for the anti-Turkish lobby (and those who have watched Midnight Express might have wondered about the large number of Armenian names in the credits). The opportunity to whip up anti-Turkish hysteria was not missed of course.
The film – directed by Alan Parker and scripted by Oliver Stone – did not even reflect the facts in the book written by Hayes, let alone facts about Turkey. For example there is a scene in the film where Hayes stands up in court and heroically proffers that “Although they do not eat pork, Turks are a nation of pigs.” There is no such line in the original book written by Billy Hayes, and one wonders why Stone would add it to the script and Parker allow it to go ahead. Such distortions based on age old prejudices turned the whole thing into a 30-year old headache for Turkey. Dr. Goebbels, I am sure, would have been proud of the “propaganda coup” this film represents against Turks, who were portrayed as creatures short of being wild beasts. It will be studied in years to come as a prime example of how prejudice can be turned to propagandist advantage. Much older and apparently a little wiser now, Mr. Hayes seems to have cultivated a conscience and is openly admitting, “The portrayal of the Turks in the movie was not accurate.” This also highlights the intelligence of millions in Europe and the U.S. who watched Midnight Express unquestioningly, and whose support for it brought the film an Oscar. Put simply, they were duped and willingly so, because “the grand old European virtue” of “doubting and questioning in order to arrive at the real truth” was cast out of the window when the subject was Turkey. But little has changed, as evidenced by the paranoia that is being whipped up in Europe today over the question of Turkish membership in the EU, a paranoia that is being actively stoked by unscrupulous politicians. When the question is Turkey, there still seems to be no shortage of prejudice that can be pulled out of the bag in order to be used for this or that political purpose. To take an example, this is exactly what the politically motivated Armenian lobby is relying on today. It is also why this lobby hates Ankara's suggestion of a commission comprising Turkish and Armenian as well as independent historians from other countries to study the events of 1915 from every aspect possible, in order to arrive at a complete picture about how the tragedy of the Armenians, as well as millions of Moslem subjects of the Ottoman Empire, came about. This is the only way that correct lessons can be drawn from history, and not just by Turks but by everyone. If, that is, the object is really “to learn from history” rather than serve an undying political desire “to get even.” One cannot help but wonder if there will be politicians, journalists and academics in Europe and the U.S. who in 30 years time will come out like Billy Hayes, admitting that “Their portrayal of the Turks was not accurate.” It is more than likely that their Turkish counterparts will only come out then with their own admission about the darker side of Turkish history, and not before.
I spent a few days in Istanbul while studying abroad in Bulgaria. I watched the film "Midnight Express" just now, and upon googling it, read a blog which highlighted the inaccuracies of the film (thus, the email address). Maybe my confusion is to blame on the fact that I am an American: The blogger seems to think that an Oscar could only be awarded to such an inaccurate film if its fans had a propensity to throw out all scrutiny and blindly accept the whole thing as fact. This leaves the reader curious about the criteria used to award Oscars to films of pure fiction, including animated ones. The blogger then explains that Turkey is not as bad as the film suggests because Billy never actually bit out the tongue from a man's mouth. No mention of whether there was any truth to the surprise 30-year bonus added to the original sentence that he had nearly completed.
These arguments are made in the midst of telling the reader about the harsh treatment of Turkish intellectuals, who, for reading the "Communist Manifesto," had been thrown in prison and were being subjected to mistreatment. This leaves the reader confused, as he/she will likely be curious as to why he/she -- after being told that Turkey jails its dissidents -- should not view Turkey as being a bit backwards.
I understand the point the blogger is trying to make, but I'm a bit offended at his/her blanket statement about the intelligence of people in the West.
- Ben Bejin, 27Jun2008
Billy Hayes -Midnight Express
June 2010 UpdateBilly Hayes Reveals 'The Real Midnight Express'
The man behind 'Midnight Express' tells his side of the story in the season premiere of 'Locked Up Abroad.'
by Blair Marnell, Jun 28, 2010
On Wednesday, June 30, a new season of "Locked Up Abroad" will debut on the National Geographic Channel. The series — which often features gripping accounts of Americans held in foreign jails — is returning with the untold tale of one of the most famous American prisoners ever, Billy Hayes.
In 1970, Hayes was arrested while attempting to smuggle Hash out of Turkey and sentenced to four years in jail. After his sentence was shifted into a life term only weeks away from his release, Hayes planned and successfully executed his escape from prison. Following his return to America, Hayes wrote a book about his experiences called "Midnight Express;" which was later adapted into a movie by director Alan Parker and screenwriter Oliver Stone with Brad Davis portraying Hayes on the big screen.
However, Hayes has maintained for years that several details from the movie were not an accurate description of his escape. In the season premiere of "Locked Up Abroad," Hayes offers a first person account of "The Real Midnight Express," including new details never-before-revealed about his escape and his previous activity in Turkey.
Crave Online recently had the opportunity to speak with Hayes about his story, along with some of his future plans beyond the "Midnight Express."
Crave Online: Can you tell us why you decided to come forward with this part of the story after all of these years?
Billy Hayes: Because National Geographic gave me the opportunity to do it. To actually tell my story, which I certainly wasn't able to do when I first got home.
Crave Online: Which aspects of the "Midnight Express" film did you find objectionable?
Billy Hayes: Not so much even objectionable, just that they had to make changes to my story to tell their story. And as a filmmaker, I understand why they would do that. The biggest problem I had with the film is the fact that you don't see any good Turks at all in the movie. It creates an overall impression that Turkey is this terrible place and Turks are a terrible people. Which is not valid or true, both to my own experience and to reality. I actually loved Istanbul. I got along great with the Turks until I was arrested.
I don't like Turkish prisons and I certainly don't like the Turkish legal system. But you know, you could fill in the blank with any country in the world and you're not going to like their prison. And if you get arrested, you're not going to like their legal system. So, my problem with the film is that it created this overall impression that all Turks are like that; even though I have said in every interview I have done over the last thirty years — just what I'm telling you now — that that's not true. My little words get lost up against the images on the screen because Alan Parker, Brad Davis and the rest made an incredibly powerful film.
Things like the courtroom scene, after the sentencing where they've got me (or Brad) saying "This is a nation of pigs and I f*** you all. And I f*** your mothers." The Turks hated that scene and rightfully so. What I actually said (which is in the Turkish records and in my book) was something about "You know, I've been in your jail for four years now. And if you're going to send me to more prison, I can't agree with you. All I can do is forgive you." That is what I said. That's the diametric opposite of what was said in the film.
Changes like that bothered me. The fact that the escape in the movie is like an afterthought. He kills the guard, which I didn't do. I didn't have too much of a problem with the guard's portrayal because he was a brute and he was a sadist. Most guards were not like that, this guy was. This guy was actually shot by a fellow prisoner, who he had a beaten a year or two earlier. This prisoner shot him outside of the prison one morning while he was sitting and drinking his tea. The prisoner shot him eight times because he had disgraced this prisoner's family while he was beating him. But I didn't kill the guard and I actually escaped in a very different way than was shown in the film.
Crave Online: What was the day-to-day life like in Turkish prison? And how does that compare with American prisons?
Billy Hayes: The only difference that I can really say is that American jails are really structured. You wake up at 7am, piss at 7:05, eat at 7:15am... Turkish jails are not like that. They pretty much lock you in and close you in. And everything works on its own schedule, for the most part. Which I liked and I'm thrilled that I didn't have to be in a really structured prison like an American jail.
Crave Online: How did you escape?
Billy Hayes: I got transferred to an island prison and I escaped off the island in a rowboat in a storm one night. And I spent three days running through Turkey and dying my hair. I didn't know it at the time, but I found out afterwards that I crossed a minefield at the Turkish/Greek boarder and then swam the Maritsa river over to the other side, which was Greece and ultimately freedom. When the whole film thing came about I said, "I know they'll do the escape. I don't know what else they'll change, [but] it's made for Hollywood." And they didn't do it! Which stunned me when I first saw the film.
In fact I saw it in a little screening room in New York, all by myself. I could barely breath at the end of the movie. And then Alan Parker said "Well Billy, what do you think?" I said "I loved the film, but I miss my row boat. What happened to the escape?" He said "what forty-five minutes of this film do you want to cut out to put in your escape? They'd had enough, get the audience out of the bloody theater." And he may be right in that respect.
But personally, I was such an idiot. I got myself busted and I put myself and my family and my friends through all of this grief. But then I actually got myself out. Literally holding my own fate in my hands as I was rowing away and I would have liked that in the film. That would have been good for me, personally. I understood why they didn't have it in.
Crave Online: Where did you get the row boat from?
Billy Hayes: The prison island I was on — 17 miles off the mainland — wooden boats would come from the mainland with produce with [smaller boats] tied behind them. These boats were not allowed to spend the night in the harbor because it's a prison island. Except as I noticed, the first time the seas were so rough and a storm was coming that the boats anchored. And they spent the night in our harbor. Each of them had a [smaller boat] behind them.
That was my plan. I was big on plans. My first plan was to smuggle the hash and then my plan was to get a rowboat and row to the mainland. I wasn't worried about swimming out to the boat, I was a life-guard and a surfer. But I needed to get to the mainland and then make my way back into Istanbul where I had a friend — who had been in prison for a couple of years — who had become a Muslim, spoke terrific Turkish and he owed me a really big favor for something that happened in jail. He was working as a manager of a hotel. I figured once I got to him, he'd hide me out in the basement for a week, we'd get a false passport, it would blow over and I'd go out of the country. But when I got to the hotel, they said "Oh, Wolfie! You just missed him. He left yesterday for Afghanistan."
That was the end of my plan. Everything else was improvised from there. It took me a few more days and I dyed my hair. Eventually, I swam the river into Greece.
Crave Online: Were they looking for you at that point?
Billy Hayes: They were looking for me once the sun came up. I had gotten past the night bed check, so I knew that once the sun came up, they'd start on the morning bed check and they'd discover that I was missing. Then they'd have to look for me around the island. Again, this was 1975, they wasn't even e-mail back then. It took a while. But once the sun came up, I knew the alarm was going to go off. At that point, I knew the clock was ticking.
Crave Online: How did the American embassy respond when you were in Greece?
Billy Hayes: They came to me, because I was arrested after I swam the river. I ran into some border guards and I was kept in a little room in the woods because it's really a restricted military zone. The Turks and the Greeks have been enemies for thousands of years and here I come wondering off into a military zone. The American consul was contacted and came out to visit me in this little jail I was in. He made the arrangements with the Greeks. I was essentially deported as "a bad influence upon the youth of Greece." Which was the nicest thing the Greeks could have done and in truth it was the charge they had against Socrates. I didn't have to drink any Hemlock, which was nice!
I knew the Greeks would never send me back to Turkey. Not for hash. If I killed someone, that's different. That was also one of the considerations I had in escaping. "Do you buy a gun or not buy a gun?" If you've got money, you can buy anything in jail. And I had some money smuggled in by my dad. But if I had a gun and somebody pointed a gun at me, I'm going to try to shoot them first. And then where am I going to go? I wouldn't be safe anywhere. Moral and karmic implications of killing another human being aside, I'd have to live in Paraguay for the rest of my life.
Crave Online: You came back to Turkey years later.
Billy Hayes: Two years ago, I got to go back.
Crave Online: I was wondering about that. How did you know they weren't going to just put you back in prison?
Billy Hayes: It's interesting, because when this whole thing was coming about, all of my New York friends in particular said "Have you heard about 'hey come to Yankee Stadium, and claim your prize!' And all of those idiots get arrested because they have outstanding traffic tickets." But the bottom line is that everyone — people or countries — do what's in their best interest. And the best interest of Turkey was to not have any more "Billy Hayes 'Midnight Express' bad BS" against them. The worst thing that could happen to them is that I go back there and have something [bad] happen.
In fact, the Turks were more concerned about me — my own physical safety — because the film was so derogatory against Turkey and the Turks. It destroyed the tourist industry for years and created this overall impression in the world — that they're still dealing with — which was "Oh my God, Turkey, 'Midnight Express.' We don't want to go there." And the Turks who brought me back were actually very worried about my safety. So they actually took very good care of me.
There was an international conference of 1,000 police officers from 85 countries in Istanbul meeting to talk about international police and global security. And these police had seen a Youtube video I did in 1997 where a Turk who I met at the Cannes Film Festival said that "I heard that you like Turkey." And I said just what I'm telling you now. That "I like Turkey, I wish they'd shown some good Turks."
He said "this will be on television tomorrow." And eventually it was! It's on Youtube now and it's like a 14 minute interview. These Turkish police saw this and contacted me. They said "If you will come to Istanbul for this global conference, we'd like you to say what you've been saying." I'd always wanted to go back. I loved Istanbul. I wanted to go back and heal the breach because I was the most hated man in Turkey. I just didn't want that. So I thought this would be a chance for me to go back to complete the circle and heal the breach between us.
So, it was a little weird. But it turned out to be a very good thing. It was in all of the Turkish newspapers and on Turkish TV and it made a lot of European news. I loved it. I spent four days in Istanbul and I was amazed. Turkey 30 years ago was the poor man of Europe. They are now one of the economic powerhouses of the last ten years. The old part of Istanbul is the same. The new part has a skyline that dwarfs New York. Turkey is doing very well these days.
Crave Online: You're a filmmaker now. Was this something you were doing before you were arrested?
Billy Hayes: No, I was a writer before I was arrested. It was one of the reasons I went out on to the road, to experience life before I could write about it. Surprise, surprise, I experienced more than I planned for. I was writing before I got arrested and I was writing in jail — I have a book of letters that will hopefully get published here — and I became an actor when I got out. I'm still acting and I still direct a lot of theater, which I love to do but you can't make any money in theater. You have to do stuff in-between.
Crave Online: What else have you worked on besides theater?
Billy Hayes: I did a film about ten years ago that I directed. I've got two books that are sitting with my agent which will hopefully get published soon. One of the reasons I was happy about "Locked Up Abroad" is that it will raise my profile to the point where hopefully these books can get published. One of them is "Letters from a Turkish Prison" — all the letters I wrote home to people over five years — they kept and gave back to me when I was writing "The Midnight Express." I put them in boxes in the attic and never looked at them again until a few years ago — through a real fluke — my lawyer got to look at the letters and pretty much insisted I put them all down and annotate them.
I didn't want to do it and I thought "Who cares about letters from forty years ago?" I certainly didn't, but my lawyer is always right. He's a real smart guy and it turns out that there was a very interesting arc in these letters. It's terribly embarrassing and humbling in some respects to read about what you thought about life at 23 when you're 60.
Crave Online: How old are you?
Billy Hayes: I'm 63.
Crave Online: I would have guessed you were in your early to mid-fifties.
Billy Hayes: I got lucky. Before I got arrested, I discovered yoga. And I've literally done yoga everyday for forty years. It's the only thing that saved me in jail, physically and emotionally. And in Hollywood. Emotionally, you have to be really tough to be in this business, Yoga just helps keep me balanced everyday. It helps. I've been here in Hollywood for thirty years. My wife and I live back in New York and go back and forth,
Crave Online: Did you know your wife when you were in prison?
Billy Hayes: No, luckily I didn't... I knew a lot of women, but nobody in particular or special. Which was great because that's one of the harder parts of jail for guys who have wives or families. It was hard enough for me to be dealing with the fact that my parents and my family was suffering, which was by far the worst part of prison for me. But guys who have wives or kids, that's so hard to be missing them.
But I met my wife at the Cannes Film Festival in 1978 when "Midnight Express" premiered there. Of all places, at the height of the hip and hypocrisy of Cannes, I met the woman who is still my wife today thirty years later.
Crave Online: What would your advice be to any Americans who get locked up abroad?
Billy Hayes: First off, don't get locked up abroad. That's my first piece of advice. I did a whole bunch of college lectures in the '80s and that was my answer. I would start each lecture like this "If you're this stupid, this is what can happen to you." And I saw a lot of college heads nodding. At the very least this should be a cautionary tale for anybody who sees it.
If you do happen to get locked up... invariably I get e-mails and calls when people get locked up. I always tell them to do Yoga, I try to send them Yoga books because I know that it saved me. Very few really follow up, but you could not have anything better.
Crave Online: Do you have anything else coming up?
Billy Hayes: I'm doing a one-man show that's going to open here in September or October in and around the ["Midnight Express"] subject matter.
Crave Online: Do you have any closing thoughts?
Billy Hayes: Tape it under your arms, they'll never search you there! [laughs]
Billy Hayes interview, 'Locked Up Abroad' tells real Midnight Express taleBy April MacIntyre Jun 27, 2010,
“In 1978 Hollywood made a film about my life, it was called Midnight Express and it told the story of my imprisonment and escape from a prison in Istanbul. The story itself was based upon the book I had written. In the book I could only say certain things for legal reasons. The movie itself changed even the book to a point where not all of it is valid and true to my story. Now I have a chance to tell my story.”
– Billy Hayes
One of National Geographic Channel's most riveting series is back this summer on Wednesday June 30 at 10 PM.
"Locked Up Abroad" is reality tutorial for anyone with grandiose ideas about smuggling drugs or skirting customs and laws in countries outside the USA.
The Constitution does not follow you when you leave America.
Best advice for travelers? Attorney Dick Atkins, aka “the Houdini of fast escapes from foreign prisons” told Monsters and Critics at the National Geographic Channel screening at the Paley Center of “Locked and Abroad, June 24: “Buy reasonably priced, good travel insurance whenever you go abroad, especially to countries that are lesser travelled.”
"And don't do anything stupid!"
This series began as an adaptation of the show "Banged Up Abroad," which aired in the United Kingdom in 2006. Now it is a top-rated series for National Geographic Channel reborn as "Locked Up Abroad" - re-enactments of real people’s stories who fell into serious trouble while traveling. The catalyst for their legal and imprisonment problems include drug trafficking and kidnappings.
Each of the hour-long episodes begins with a subject setting the stage for his or her story by explaining the reasons for traveling to a certain country. Footage of the location is shown. Then actors re-create the experience.
Some people make it, others don’t and wind up dying in foreign lands.
Now one of the most famous Americans caught for drugs abroad is finally able to tell his entire story. The Oscar-winning 1978 film “Midnight Express” told the story of 23-year-old college student Billy Hayes ― his imprisonment for drug smuggling and his escape from a prison in Istanbul, Turkey.
For legal reasons, neither the film nor the book, authored by Hayes, told the whole truth. Now, Billy tells the full story of being sent to the infamous Turkish Sağmalcılar prison and eventually escaping.
After serving near five years and about to be set free, Billy was dealt a harsh blow as the Turkish courts decided he was a drug smuggler, not just a hapless tourist caught for possession, and upped his nearly-served sentence to life in prison.
The National Geographic “Locked Up Abroad: The Real Midnight Express” June 30 depicts a dramatic recreation of these events, as Billy, devastated by the curveball he is thrown, is determined to escape and risk death to do it.
His journey to freedom begins after being transferred to another prison located on an island, stealing a fisherman’s dinghy and heaving a skiff 17 miles through the rolling waves to the mainland. However, once he reaches the shore, Billy runs into a military checkpoint, where he is immediately arrested and held at gunpoint. His captors turn out to be Greek, historical enemies of the Turks, and Billy is deported back to America.
Today Billy Hayes’ youthful appearance, full head of hair, lithe physique and sharp mind belie his actual 63 years, which include the bad stretch where he was captured, beaten and imprisoned.
Hayes shared that 40 years of daily Yoga exercise (which he learned in prison) has been part of his maintenance to keep youthful. It’s worked very well for him.
Monsters and Critics spoke to Billy Hayes about his Turkish nightmare that fueled the memoir and the movie, Midnight Express.
Monsters & Critics: Your episode was very hard to watch. You were very emotional in it, understandably. All these years after the fact, I’m sure the vividness of the whole experience is still there.
What made you want to do it again and relive it?
Billy Hayes: It was a chance actually to do it my way and tell the story in a way that I would have liked from the beginning. Which I wasn’t able to do!
To go from real life to a book to a film…there’s going to be changes, obviously through each medium. I wasn’t even able to tell the full story in the book just for legal reasons when I first came back.
If you seen the episode you’ll know that I had done this three times prior before I got arrested, but I couldn’t say that when I first came home, and couldn’t write it in my book when I first came home.
Because it was 1975, and the advice from my lawyer was, ‘Look now, wait a second. You want to publicly admit that three times prior to getting arrested? You went to Turkey…smuggled some hash… brought it back into the United States and sold it. Is that correct?’
I said, ‘I guess so!’
He said, ‘Well let me ask you one more question then. Are you out of your f*cking mind!?’
So I had to not say that, and when I was in Istanbul the Turkish court just assumed, and I certainly didn’t dissuade them that this was the first time that I’d smuggled hash, and it wasn’t.
So I was able to tell the full story here.
My problem with the film Midnight Express is that it creates an overall impression! I mean it’s brilliantly made, if it wasn’t such a powerful film they wouldn’t have got the affect that it did, but you don’t see any good Turks in the whole film, and it created this overall impression that Turkey is just this horrible place, and all Turks are horrible. That’s not true.
Either to the reality or of my experience.
I loved Istanbul. I still do. It’s a fascinating place! I got along great with the Turks. Until I got arrested. I mean I’m not a great fan of Turkish prison or of their legal system, but that could be any country in the world.
So from day one every interview I have done in the last 30 years I have said what I just said to you. It’s just my little words don’t get heard over the images that are seen on the screen.
Film is such a powerful medium, and it created this overall impression, which was very strong. So here is a chance for me to tell it my way, and to balance the views of the audience.
Certainly it doesn’t create an overall impression like the film did about Turkey and the Turks, which was the one reason I wanted to tell the story again.
Monsters & Critics: You were really emotional when you talked about your mother’s reaction to you being imprisoned. Is it your hope that kids watching this will learn from your mistake?
Billy Hayes: At the very least! This should be a cautionary tale. In the mid 80s I did a series of college lectures around the same subject, and first off I didn’t talk about it at all.
It was three years non-stop. Between the book and the film, and the Cannes Film Festival I was totally burned out. I didn’t want to hear anything else about Billy Hayes and all this Midnight Express Bullshit!
So I went to a totally different place and after a few years. I got brought back to Marquette University. Where I’d almost graduated. I got to talk there, and there was a lecture agent in the audience, and he said, ‘You should do lectures.’
I said, ‘I’m an actor. I don’t do that.’
Pretty soon I was doing lectures. I did a hundred and three of them, and that was my message. That we get in front of every crowd and start the lecture like this, ‘If you’re this stupid…look what can happen to you.’
And I see all these heads nodding. That was my first message, and that’s the message here. Obviously if you’re this stupid look what can happen to you. So don’t be this stupid, and go smuggle drugs in a foreign country.
When we get into the whole subject matter of whether drugs should be legalized and all that. That’s a whole other kettle of fish. Of course they should, but I don’t think we have time or place to talk about that, and the imbalance it creates in our society.
Our over-crowded prisons and our corrupt legal system, and all the deaths and the violence because those drugs are so expensive. They’re not. They’re cheap, they’re plants! They grow in the ground.
There expensive because we have made them illegal. The war on drugs is the most idiotic policy.
Richard Nixon... I despised Richard Nixon. He was the first person that really started it, and it’s still happening right now. There’s still thousands of Americans… I mean we have half of our prison population in jail for drug related crimes. That’s insane.
A twenty year-old kid gets arrested for pot, and they put him in prison. You think that’s going help him? Trust me it won’t. The stuff he learns in jail is not going to make him a better citizen, and if he survives it at all. It’s at huge risk and cost to himself.
Monsters & Critics: What state is your residence in?
Billy Hayes: California, been here 30 - years now.
Monsters & Critics: We have medical Marijuana cards. I think the dam’s been breached here.
Billy Hayes: There are some, but that’s another thing to be aware of. I mean geographic distinctions and legalities. The joint tucked behind your ear in California, You won’t even get arrested for in Santa Monica.
You go to Nevada. Nevada’s two years in prison. For a joint. Unless it’s changed recently. It still was recently. That’s two years of your life. Well, ignorance of the law does not help. People should be aware of what can happen to you.
Again drug education. We should make people aware. Let them find out everything about all the drugs and let them make their own decisions. Because they’re going to make them anyway. So educate them. Don’t put them in jail for it.
It corrupts our legal system. It corrupts our prisons. It creates all the violence that exists today. It’s insanity. We’re moving away from it, but it’s such a difficult thing to do. The morality. We still have all of these religious moral reasons why drugs are terrible.
Let’s talk about terrible drugs. How about alcohol? How about tobacco? You want to talk about two bad drugs! Forget about Marijuana. Alcohol and Tobacco! Billions of dollars is spent on advertising to make you and your kids smoke and drink. Where’s the problem there?
Monsters & Critics: I saw Midnight Express as a teenager. It was very impactful, and I’m now the mother of an 18 year-old and 25 year-old. Both of them have travelled extensively. What would you want people to take away the most from your experience. Other than the cautionary tale.
Billy Hayes: Obviously it is a cautionary tale. The bottom line for me is the same thing I had when I was doing the college lectures! Which is do what you like, and know what you’re doing! Do whatever you like and know what you’re doing because you’ve got to take responsibility for your own actions.
That’s the bottom line. So know what you’re about.
For me. Not knowing what I was doing was not really taking responsibility for the fact that my actions affected the people around me that I loved. (Tears up for a moment) Wow, I can’t even say it. 40 years and I can barely talk about it! The fact that my family suffered so much.
Every day while I was in jail. From my stupid actions. That tore my heart out!
So if you want a cautionary tale for your 18 year-old son, think about what it would do to you. If you had to deal with the fact that your sons in prison every day. It would be devastating on you. Well, if he knew that...the next time he was thinking of doing something stupid. That might stop him.
So if I have any messages at all for people. It’s think about that. Think about what your actions are going to do and take responsibility for them.
Monsters & Critics: What was the time period from when life was normal? To the hell that you were in to when life was normal again. How much time elapsed?
Billy Hayes: When will it be normal again? (Laughs) I don’t know, and I don’t even know what normal is.
I’m being a little facetious. I was arrested in 1970. I got out in 1975. That was a pretty bizarre period for me to go from the Sixties, which I just loved. Sex, Drugs and Rock N’ Roll, Free Love and no AIDS. God I loved the Sixties, and life was so easy for me. So easy.
Then it wasn’t easy anymore, and then I got out and everything flipped over, but the weird part pretty much started when I got out. Turkish prison was weird, but I came home. I stepped off the plane at Kennedy Airport. It was a press conference at the airport. They were over a hundred people asking me questions, ‘Billy, Billy. What’s it feel like to be home?’
‘I don’t know! I just got here. I haven’t seen my mother yet.’
That never stopped. That went on for three solid years. Right up until the Cannes Film Festival.
Between the coming home and doing the book. Doing the promotion for the book. Then having the movie, and doing the promotion for the movie. Then hitting the Cannes Film Festival. I did thousands of interviews. I don’t know that my life ever got normal, but luckily at the Cannes Film Festival of all places. I met the woman who is still my wife today.
She’s the best thing that ever happened to me. So if it cost me all that time to get to her, which is what I tell her all the time. She says, ‘Stop bullshitting me!’ but it’s the truth.
All of that got me to her. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
Monsters & Critics: That’s a nice story
Billy Hayes: It’s a true story. I mean I get kids saying, ‘How long you been married?’ and I’ve been married about 30 - years, and I always say the same thing. It’s the best thing I ever did. Not the easiest thing I have ever done, but certainly the best thing!
Monsters & Critics: How did you get approached for a book when you got back?
Billy Hayes: The Book. I’d just got out of jail, but there had been a lot of stuff in the press when I first got arrested, and I was in jail. Then my sentence got changed to Life. I was the first American to get a life sentence, which was reduced to 30 years.
All of that was in the press in New York. In the papers, and my dad had used press stuff to try and help me, and so when I did escape. The press was all over it. I mean literally.
As I said in the airport they had this conference on. I mean I wasn’t even home when the agents started calling. It was like an avalanche. I got home and whoosh…down the hill and this avalanche.
Again, it didn’t stop for about three years, and in the end I had to stop.
I had to stop doing anything to do with ‘Billy Hayes, Midnight Express’ and all that bullshit. Nothing, and I just became an actor.
Then after a little while I realized I had to bring all that back in because the whole world knew me as Billy Hayes the escaped convict, drug smuggler. So let’s make the most of it. Particularly if you’re doing theater.
Anyway to get people into the theater, ‘Come see the escaped convict, drug smuggler! Come on in.’ It’s like… well if it brought people in. ‘Gee he does do other things. He’s an actor, he’s a director…’ and I’ve written other stuff, but I’ll always be Billy Hayes locked up abroad, but here’s a chance for me to tell it in my own words. My own way.
Monsters and Critics: Light question. What were you hankering for when you got back to the states? After having eaten prison food in Turkey for years?
Billy Hayes: Cold apple sauce. I used to wake up dreaming in the middle of the night in a hot, sweaty prison thinking about cold apple sauce. It just drove me insane. A lot of other things, but that’s what I really wanted. Food, food. Cold Apple Sauce on a hot summer night, but what I wanted to do most was walk in a straight line for more than 34 paces… (points) because that’s where the wall was. You’d go back, you’d go back and back, round and round and around, but just to walk in a straight line.
Just to be alone. In prison you’re always lonely but you are never alone. With all those people around. In hell with the smell of all those people. That drove me crazy.
Monsters and Critics: If you could describe it now, what’s the smell of a Turkish prison?
Billy Hayes: Funky. Very, very funky. Holes in the floor for the toilet. You got 80 guys. You wash once a week with hot water. Every day they serve you beans. 80 guys locked in one room. Every day they served beans.
Monsters and Critics: That’s all they gave you. Beans?
Billy Hayes: No, but everyday that’s part of what they served. You could buy stuff. Essentially they did beans every day. Nobody washed. Once a week you’d get a bath.
So I learned to turn off my smell and turn off my hearing. I had to pretty much isolate both of them, but there were still certain smells that take me back. Bad smells. Nasty, funky toilet-y smells. They take me right back.