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. But for legal reasons, neither the film nor the book, authored by Hayes, was completely accurate. Now, Billy tells the full story of being sent to the infamous Turkish Sagmalcilar prison and eventually escaping. Locked Up Abroad: The Real Midnight Express at Wednesday June 30 at 10P et/pt.
NOTE: The live blog is now over. Billy will try to respond to any unanswered questions in the next week.
Was there a Jimmy and Max?
Do you stay in touch with Max and Jimmy?
No I haven’t had any contact.
With all things considered, do you have any regrets?
Immense amounts of regrets, particularly for all the pain I caused my family.
What was the first thing you remember doing when you finally made it back to the United States?
I stepped off plane at Kennedy airport into a press conference and I was answering questions like I’m doing now.
Now that you can legally tell everything that happened, will you write another book with the missing details from the first one included or even look into making another movie which will tell your incredible story more accurately?
Not another movie because Locked Up Abroad did what I wanted to do for that. But I have another book that is in the process of going to publishers as we speak called Letters from a Turkish Prison 1970-1975. And it is what it exactly says, it’s a collection of all the letters I wrote home to people. They kept those letters and gave them back to me which I used when I first wrote Midnight Express but now I’ve organized them and annotated them and I’m hoping that pretty soon they’ll be coming out. I’m pretty excited about it.
Were the book and movie worth the time in prison?
That’s a good question. I have to say yes because it all led to Cannes Film Festival where I met wife who is still my wife today.
Who was the American named TEX who saw you at the airport and took you through Istanbul at gunpoint? Was he Turkish, Interpol, State Dept/CIA, Do you know even now? Did he exist or was he just a literary device?
He was a real guy. An American which is what I most liked, just because I needed to see an American, I thought that would be helpful. He never told me his name, I called him Tex in the book just because he had a Texas accent. But I’m assuming he was a DEA agent and he’s the guy that took me from the airport back to the first lockup place in Istanbul.
Did you really receive hard bastinado on your bare soles? How many strokes did you receive and was it very painful?
Yes it’s a form of punishment in the Middle East called folaka. I guess they must have hit me 8, 10, 12 times, I wasn’t counting. It hurt like hell. I thought they were killing me but I found out later it really wasn’t a bad beating because they didn’t break any bones. That’s how you know if it’s a bad beating; if they break bones. They were just teaching me a lesson. New prisoner, it’s his first night, and he got in a fight. They taught me a lesson; a very effective lesson.
Have you seen that other prisoners had been tortured in similar way? Was this method used also as a punishment for disobedience in prisons?
I didn’t seen any. But it happened all the time. That’s how they punished people; beating them on their feet with a stick.
Did you and your girlfriend stay together during and after your imprisonment?
I knew her since high school. She was one of my oldest friends in the world. I spent some time with her when I first got back in New York, but I was so crazy when I first got home and my life was so wild with all this, she went away. She was looking for someone more solid, somebody more together than me. But we have remained good friends to this day. In fact I just talked to her this afternoon on the telephone. She lives in the mountains in Colorado and does not get the National Geographic Channel, so she has a DVD of the show and is watching it as we speak.
Did you really walk the wheel? Why do people walk the wheel? What is meant by walking it in the opposite direction?
Yes I did walk it. This is a house for criminally insane, people that are totally out of their mind. They were all in there for hideous crimes. It was just something to do. In prison everybody walks. You either walk up and back or around and around, this was a natural place to walk. There is something political about it. All good turks walk to the right because the left is communist. Turkey is a very anti-communist country, so all turks walked in one direction. One morning I got down there so early nobody was there and I just was feeling a little obstinate and getting a little crazy myself and started walking the other way, which created such a furor of all the people trying to get me to walk the right way. I kept fighting to go in the opposite direction which shows that I was probably getting pretty crazy myself at that point.
Did you really fight with Rifki and bite his tongue out?
He informed on a friend of mine, and got him beaten really bad so I attacked Rifki trying to kill him, which sounds like such a terrible thing to say now, but at the time that’s what I wanted to do. I was not successful, guards came in and broke us up but in the film, they thought it would be very symbolic to have the informer’s tongue was bitten out. I did not do that, although I wanted to.
What if anything, happened during the 3 weeks it took to get back to New York. Were you on the run, or hiding in a safe place?
When I swam across the river and got into Greece, the Greek soldiers found me out in the middle of the forbidden zone. They kept me in a little cell in the woods on the military base for about 12 days while they decided what to do with me. But of course I knew they were never going to send me back to Turkey, so it was a good 12 days. I mean I can stand on my head for 12 days knowing I’m going free. Then I flew to Amsterdam for I think four or five days in Amsterdam before actually getting back to New York.
Are you originally from Milwaukee or were you going to school there?
No I went to school there. Originally I was born in the Bronx, grew up on Long Island and went to school in Milwaukee.