Locked Up Abroad: Where Are They Now?: Mike Cooke

If you tuned in to Mike Cooke’s heart-pounding story on Locked Up Abroad: Mexican Prison Escape, I’m sure you have questions. We checked in with Mike to get answers and see what life is like for him today and here’s what he had to say:

Before you took off for Mexico with your buddies, how were your sailing skills? Had you been sailing a long time?
Had sailed for a couple of years previously.  Local Channel Islands (like Catalina) and one trip to Ensenada, Mexico.  (120 mi. r/t)

You initially went to Mexico searching for a dream surf spot… What type of place did you imagine? Did you ever find it?
Mexico surf at that time was uncrowded and mostly unknown, especially the spots only accessible by boat. We found waves, but not the ultimate Shangri-La.

When you guys arrived in Mazatlan on your boat, you mentioned it was falling apart… Did you have any harrowing close calls during this first leg of your sailing journey?
After we had anchored in the bay at Mazatlan, we went into town, only to come back and find that the locals had cut our anchor line and stolen our anchor. The boat was sitting high and dry on the beach!  (We think the same guys that stole it, helped us get the boat back out off the beach.) We used a standby generator (it had never really worked) as our new anchor. With limited success.

Before you met Frank, had you heard stories of people successfully transporting marijuana back to the States? Did any other ex-pats talk openly about this?
Of course we had heard of people smuggling pot, but didn’t know anyone personally. There was always a lot of talk but very little action.

What was the scariest thing you witnessed in the Mexican prison?
I saw a guy shoot up heroin into his [penis]. That scared me so much I swore I would never do heroin myself.

During lock-up, were you surprised by anything you missed? (ex: a particular food, drink, scent, or clothing item?)
Freedom and women!

Do you still keep in touch with any of the guys from this ordeal? Did you ever find out what happened to Benny?
Mace and Frank only.  Have tried to contact the others, but never have located them.

What do you think would’ve happened if you’d been caught during your prison escape, or if you never attempted escape in the first place?
First thing they do is beat the crap out of you.  Then throw you in the “hole” for 30 days. Then, start your time to trial over. They don’t have to give you a trial for one year, so whatever time you’ve already done waiting for trial, starts over. However, under Napoleonic Code in Mexico, as a prisoner, it’s your right to try and escape. We would have been sentenced to at least 5 years each. At that time, the U.S. was paying Mexico extra money to keep Americans locked up.

How has the experience in Mexico changed you as a person?
It made me see “you can get it if you really want” (that’s a song) and if you don’t try, your never gonna get it.  Guaranteed! 

Have you ever traveled back to Mexico?
I’ve been to Ensenada only once since. My lawyer said it would PROBABLY be OK, just don’t go back to Mazatlan! I’m OK with that.

Did you ever sail a boat again, after that terrifying shipwreck ordeal?
I went ahead a few years later and built my own 42′ sailboat from a bare hull (took 3 years) then went to the So. Pacific on it for two years. Then I lived aboard and sailed locally for the next 20 years.

What are you up to these days?
After my sailing trip, I went to a diving school for two years, then worked as a saturation diver in the No. Sea (Scotland). Then I was a commercial diver here in Calif. for the next 10 years. Then I was the boat captain of the diving boat for the next 15 years. For the last 15 years I have been a carpenter here in Santa Barbara.


  1. Paul D. Wesselink
    Grand Rapids, MI
    May 16, 2013, 7:47 pm

    It’s great to connect even in this fashion with my cousin, whom I’ve not seen in years!

  2. guy
    May 16, 2013, 8:44 pm

    what happened to Paul ???and Q # 2 with a ton of pot on the boat , they let you guys pilot the boat while they sleep ?? did he hit rocks off shore ,or what ,, diffidently a bad driver ….

  3. Rapsher
    May 21, 2013, 12:49 pm

    After they crashed the boat and got to shore. I’m perplexed, how and why the entire crew thought it was a good idea to pass out for the night? I’m sure the show is leaving some detail out, because I would have been way to concerned about securing the pot to ever think about going to sleep.
    Also, did the villagers narc the crew out? I’m confused as to how the Mexican police caught up with them 5 minutes after they had got away from the scene. .

  4. Mike
    May 30, 2013, 10:33 pm

    Guy-Don’t know what happen to “paul”. But if you see him, remind him he still owes me money!
    Of course they let us pilot the boat. We were all experienced sailors. The problem was the capts. bad navigation!
    Big swells, lots of current, offshore reef, too close to shore, equals disaster.

  5. Mike
    May 30, 2013, 10:42 pm

    Rapsher- We were wide awake the whole night , cold and miserable. Only 4 hrs. till daylight, no sleep, and as soon as it was light we started working. The villagers did rat us out, but not until the next day did the federales show up. Remember, (unfortunately) it’s a one hr. show.

  6. RealDeal
    Gods country, Wisconsin
    June 30, 2013, 12:15 am

    I’m completely obsessed with this story. So many close calls, its crazy its actually true. Just can’t imagine a couple 20 something’s, who seem to just be looking for some fun/adventure in a young, careless/naive sort of way, getting busted, then being able to pull off an escape and getting back to the states. So many questions regarding the details, not even sure where to begin. How do you not know what happened to Paul? In this day and age, just google his name and a picture of him will pop up (though youve see to have tried hard). Wasn’t he your friend? Shouldn’t mutual friends know where he is? That story of Benny is hilarious…”and we just busted out laughing”-can just picture it. Then he just hides out in some trailor park when u guys get out….How many years were you facing? Are you not still wanted for your crime? I still don’t exactly get how you were busted…they find the buried weed or was some of it still floating around the shore? What a crazy story. the best story on locked up abroad that I’ve seen. The show always leaves a whole bunch of info out tho which pisses me off cuz it only is halfway telling the story then I’m left to search the Internet to try to fill in the gaps to satisf my curiousity

  7. RealDeal
    June 30, 2013, 12:16 am

    Also, how did you have the stones to face border patrol? We’re you not wanted? I would have probably tried to jump the border illegally due to anxiety regarding that

  8. Mike
    July 2, 2013, 4:48 pm

    RealDeal- Glad you liked it. Yes, it was a ” readers digest” condensed version of the story, for sure .Don’t really care much about what happened to some of the others. In a situation like that, the true character of a person comes thru, meaning you might want to see them again or you might NOT! Bennie didn’t hold his breath to swim back into the tunnel. Half way back in, he got a mouthful of “stuff” and that’s when we started laughing, and then He started laughing too! Totally committed- no turning back then.
    Probably facing @ a 5 year sentence. Still wanted? The villagers found a kilo of pot in the wreckage that we had missed. We knew they saw it but were hoping they’de keep quiet since they got all the gear off the boat as a gift. No such luck! We had friends pick us up at the border and drive us thru. The Mex. side was easy but the US side questioned where we had been (holiday) and finally waved us thru. I ended up in the hospital due to stress and lack of sleep, but nothing serious. Maybe we’ll see the whole story in a movie someday.( there is a lot more!) You work on that!!!

  9. Arm Bruce
    July 15, 2013, 6:54 am

    Mike im not sure how to go about this,im not even sure that this is one of the guys you want to see again but i guess we’ll see. i will say he’s one of the best people ive ever come across and that i love him both like a brother and a father. I havent watched the show yet but doesnt matter, i know the full story from talking for hours with him every other day for the last 41/2 years. In fact i have a photocopy of the mexican news paper he gave me after the first run through of the story. He has been through some rough shit since the early 70’s but he’s extraordinarily strong and in most ways has bettered himself from it. i just know he would like nothing more then to be in touch.
    as conformation I’ll say that yeah, that nat geo story is hardly accurate. I’ll say that he is very very intelligent. the guy that was always sober. the guy that spoke in native tongue fluently but with a accent from spain. you know the one.
    so tell me how to move forward cause i think maybe he needs something like this

  10. Brian Cave
    July 21, 2013, 10:50 am

    Hello Mike

    Why wasnt a real book written on this story, I would love to read the full details of this adventure.

  11. Craig Stanley
    July 23, 2013, 6:03 am

    Why did the boat owners need you guys? We they not experienced at all in sailing/boating? What happened to the surfboard with the 20 pounds? Did you bring it on the boat at all? How did you get from the west coast of mexico to the border crossing at El Paso?

  12. Mike
    July 30, 2013, 10:50 pm

    Two guys could sail the boat, however, there was no autopilot. Just a lot more watch with only two. The board full of pot eventually got discovered. It had 20 lbs of weed plus full of water- it must have weighed 100 lbs!
    We were charged with that extra amount- not that it mattered
    We ended up in Durango, Mex. in the getaway cars. Then took the train up to Ciudad Juarez crossing at El Paso.

  13. Betty Jo Thorp Nash
    August 2, 2013, 3:10 am

    Hey, Mike, I just watched the TV show on Natural Geographic…what an adventure! I think that you must have 9 lives, for sure!!!! Take care and I’m so glad that you made it out alive!!!!

  14. Ben
    Lincoln, England
    August 12, 2013, 5:16 pm

    Just seen this episode broadcast in the UK, great story! You should definitely write a book. Just curious, didn’t they ask you for passports when you got to border control?

  15. Vicky
    August 14, 2013, 11:30 am

    What a fantastic story! I was on the edge of my seat the whole time! This needs to be made in to a film. Did Benny ever get caught?

  16. Michael
    SE Asia
    September 5, 2013, 9:28 am

    Hi MIke,

    Wow! What an awesome story! I was also on the edge of my seat. You don’t strike me as a softy, so to see you choke up a bit at the end when describing how you felt after crossing into the U.S., well I can’t even imagine going what you went through, what all you guys went through. You guys should write a book. I can’t get enough of your story. Wish I could have a beer with you. Take care!

  17. brian
    bath me
    October 29, 2013, 3:22 pm

    great story on nationak geo what kind of legal repercusins did u and and the others face after you came back to the states

  18. Matt Moore
    October 29, 2013, 6:13 pm

    Prison break the tv series totally stole this story!!!! The season wher they break out of Mexican prison. From the rainy tunnel to the poop pipe to the drug attic.

  19. Meredith Ann Carr
    United States
    October 31, 2013, 1:01 am

    Remember me coming and visiting you in your curacas (sp?) one day and night??? It was so good to see you guys doing well. I even saw the hole…and the dirty pictures covering it!
    My best to Mace and Mike!!!

  20. YoungBlood
    February 24, 2014, 9:29 am

    Mike what you wanted to become in your life? Your first priority? And what feelings you got after taking marijuana?

  21. YoungBlood
    February 24, 2014, 9:34 am

    I watched mexican prison breakout many, many, many times and I sware I was so inspired by you and your friends especially you for not loosing hope. These days I’m paying most of my attention in creating a breakout story similar to this one. Its my fav breakout real story of all time. JUST LOVED YOUR TEAM-WORK.

  22. peter timmer
    April 24, 2014, 1:41 am

    Mike, Terry called last night to tell me to turn on the tv. I hope you capitalize on such an ordeal. It does inspire the imagination to read or see on the big Screen. Glad to see you made!

  23. m.sharp
    May 28, 2014, 8:21 pm

    I wished I knew the story back when. I would have given you a upgrade in pay for running the OI’s great fleet.
    Sorry I missed you when you came by. great job on the story.
    Your a natural.

  24. Rebecca
    SF, CA
    June 12, 2014, 7:59 pm

    Hey Mike,
    Your story is incredible! I am overwhelmed by your tenacity and intelligence!
    Working on a project and would love to include your story!
    You and Mace should run for office!

  25. Hussain Buxa
    July 20, 2014, 5:04 am

    Hey Mike just saw your story of prison escape on nat geo.. What a story! You guys definitely got a lot more adventure then you bargained for sure! Truly inspiring story of never giving up
    You should write a book on this

  26. claudia
    wichita falls tx
    January 1, 2015, 6:09 pm

    What a crazy story. Any hopes for a movie in the works? You have a great story here mike.

  27. Whoa Boy
    January 6, 2015, 5:07 pm

    Agree with the other people who seemed to pick up on the fact that this Paul person sounds like a moron. The same guy got you shipwrecked, and then was the one to bust a hole in sewage pipe?! You guys managed to find freedom in spite of him! No wonder he doesn’t appear in the documentary, I wouldn’t want anything to do with him, and would have left him in the jail if I could.

  28. ahmed Kawu Gomih
    Ilorin, Nigeria
    April 23, 2015, 10:42 am

    So Glad to found this vids up to the blog level , well I since that time 1972 , you guyz will just be working out of jail maybe last year or this year ( penalty of 25 years for trafficking large amount of Marijuana ) you guyz must be grand PaPa by now maybe …… Guess you guys not rolling rizzler any more hi hi

  29. Kris M
    January 12, 2016, 5:42 am

    It was never mentioned why the boat capsized…. What happened? Did you hit a reef, a small island?? I’m left hanging, wondering what exactly happened. Very upset this was not talked about….. also how did the federales come to find you out, and the drugs? Did the locals that drove you into town, find your buried pot? Alot of important details were left out, and now I’m really wondering what happened.

  30. Vkambro
    Lakeside USA
    June 8, 2016, 4:43 pm

    Hi Mike,
    I wrote a screenplay based on your “experience” in Mexico and it’s starting to gain attention. Your story has all the right hooks to reel in an audience. I can forward you my information if you’d like to collaborate on writing a book.

  31. Otis
    January 30, 10:57 pm

    Do you remember the driver of the 63 valiant by whom you got driven to the Hotel Durango by? And the three breakdowns on the way?