tv Locked Up Abroad MSNBC April 5, 2015 6:00pm-7:01pm PDT
she actually hit the jackpot, too. in 1978, hollywood made a film about my life. it was called "midnight express," and it told the story about my imprisonment and escape in istanbul. the story itself was based upon the book i had written. at the time 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.
♪ >> the first time i smoked marijuana, everything about my body said, "ooh, that's good, i like that." ♪ to those who hadn't lived through the '60s, i pity you. it was just free love, which was a wonderful concept. and i fully took advantage of it. patrick was one of my best friends in the '60s. he was a writer and a dreamer.
we instantly hit it off. i mean, the two of us saw the world in the same light. he was the guy that we would send out to pick up girls. he was so smooth, women just fell all over him. i almost finished college when i had just enough, and i needed to get out and explore the world so i can experience life, so i can write about it. i needed money. so for about two months i got a job at the milwaukee county hospital. one day while i was walking around, i walked past a room where somebody had a broken leg. back then, they had, like, rolls of tape, and they dipped them in water. and then wrap it, wrap it, wrap it, wrap it. and then the cast hardens. and i thought, wow, that's easy. i could do that myself. and somewhere that stuck in my mind, which stayed there until my friend who had been traveling came back from istanbul, who had
brought several little plaques of hash with him in his money belt. most of the grass in the united states was not very good. this was terrific hash. he told me that in istanbul they sell it on the streets and it's, you know, very cheap. in those days, nobody searched you getting on an airplane. you could put a chicken under your arm and get on the plane. nobody would know. so that idea was in this part of my brain, and having seen this cast was on the other side of my brain. and they came together, and i thought, you know what, i could do that. making the money wasn't my goal. i wanted the adventure of doing it. and i wanted to pull it off. so i decided to go to istanbul and smuggle some hash back. literally, when i flew in, i was kind of looking at the different taxi drivers. and i saw this kind of semi-young hippie-looking taxicab driver kid. i said, i need to get to
sultanhani, the hippie neighborhood, as it were. and he said, hashish? i said, yeah, i might be interested in that. he said, okay. because they know americans, foreigners, that's what they are interested in. my cab driver took me back to his house. i had tea with his wife. his kids are running around. he rolled a joint of this really good hash. wow, this is really good stuff. i said, you know, a kilo, two kilos. he said two kilos, is that what you want? i said, yeah, two kilos. they charged me $150 for each kilo. so i thought, hey, have i pulled this off or what? first night in istanbul, james bond has scored! i knew people could get arrested.
i knew that sentences were severe in places. but it wasn't going to happen to me. i knew i was way too smart and good-looking to ever get arrested. and i -- i really believed that. i didn't have to act at all in the walking because the cast itself creates the very motion you need to do. and it's heavy. and it's awkward because you are clumping and clumping and clumping. got to the customs, gave them my passport. luggage was checked. like everybody, they look in your bag, but not much. so they passed me through. the part i was nervous about was kennedy. what's going to happen when i come back there?
i knew that if i got caught in new york with hash, i'd be going to jail. it was fine until i had to make my way out to the door. and as i was walking, i realized i'm leaving a trail because my cast was literally breaking apart. all that clumping had loosened the cast up. i was terrified somebody is going to see this and realize that there is something wrong here, that this is not a real cast. but nobody said a word. so it just confirmed to me how clever i really was. i sold little pieces of this hash to all my friends. i would tape them underneath on my chess set, and i sold the hash like that. this was by far and away the
best product around. everybody wanted some of this stuff. i made close to $5,000, which was an immense amount of money. but the money went quickly. i decided to do it a second time because, um, i was able to do it the first time. october of '69, i went back, saw my cab driver friend. >> hey. >> hey. >> off we went. and we essentially did the same thing a second time. what i didn't want to do was put this in a leg cast this time because i just barely pulled that off last time. i'm really skinny. i could tape four pounds of hash, which is two kilos -- i could tape it all around here and put on a bulky cable knit sweater and still look skinny. it was easy for me. six months later, the money was gone again. april, 1970, my same guy.
hey. all the same routine, two kilos for about $300. i know i'm going to be able to sell this for thousands of dollars when i get back to the united states. i guess i was a drug smuggler, sure. i was smuggling drugs. that's what i was. i was a drug smuggler. between the time of my third trip and my fourth trip, the p.l.o. hijacked airplanes, flew them into the desert, where they blew up these jets. that was the beginning of this whole new era. that was the beginning of all the airport security that now is just part and parcel of life. in october of '70, when i went back to istanbul for my fourth trip, i knew that security, and airport security certainly, is going to be heightened.
but my supreme confidence just overrode my intelligence. i had my routine down. i knew the cab driver. this would be another easy score. i went out to the airport, watched people going through customs. nobody was getting body searched. nobody is getting frisked. i'm thinking, no problem. went through customs. they looked at my passport. it has got a lot of stamps in it now. they then had all of the passengers get on a bus. i wasn't quite sure why, because it hadn't happened previous. >> i, myself, have been three weeks in istanbul because my son is in the military. >> there was some woman talking about her son and traveling here. i was listening and smiling thinking, i can't wait to get back to the states. and they drove the buses out to
where the airplane was. again, i was thinking it was a little strange, but i didn't quite realize it until i looked out the window of the bus. the airplane had a cordon of soldiers in front of the boarding ramp, and they were, i guess, searching people. this can't be happening. this -- i'm looking at it, but i'm still saying this can't be happening. not to me. [ speaking foreign language ] >> i didn't know what to do. i acted like i dropped my passport. i was sort of on the floor thinking, what am i going to do? well, i would have hidden under the seat and stayed there. >> anything wrong?
>> the lady said, what are you doing? i said, i've lost my passport. >> oh, i can see -- >> oh, she said, oh, it's in your pocket. >> look. >> i said oh, you know, thanks. i wanted to run. i couldn't get back to the airport to the terminal. i couldn't take all the [ bleep ] off. i've got it all taped to my body. the only way to go was, there's the airplane. if i can just get on that plane. and there was a line of men. and i'm watching this process. when this guy finishes, this man goes and gets on the plane.
so all i could do was try and kind of bluff my way through, um, like let me just slide by them, almost be invisible, just slide by. i got past the first guy. and as i approached the second guy -- and i had my shoulder bag. in it was my frisbee. i took my frisbee out of my bag. and i just kind of moved past him as if i'm putting stuff back in the bag. i had my foot in the air. i've told the story and people say well, you're being a little dramatic. not at all. literally, i had my foot -- i was about to step on the plane.
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wow. i guess he didn't really feel it. i'm the least religious of people, but at that point i'm finding, please, jesus, get me out of this. i will never do this crap again. please. but then he came back up. and when he came back up, then he hit it. now my heart is really beating. and this guy is looking right at me. i could see in his mind, oh, my god, wow. again, he is looking for bombs. he is looking for a terrorist. and in his mind, he's got a terrorist. took out his gun, stuck it in my waist screaming, "bomba, bomba." and all the soldiers put their rifles down and people started scurrying around, and i'm just frozen there. my whole life was hanging right in that moment. the reality of what was going to happen next was beyond me.
he realized, that's -- that's hash. >> esra. >> esra, turkish word, hash. it's hash. everybody was, oh, god, it's just hash. everybody was so relieved. except me, of course. it was the changing point in my life. everything in my life was pre and post that moment at the airport. everything changed. and it's literally shaped my life from that moment until now.
they took me out to sagmalcilar prison. i had no idea what was going to happen to me. none. i have no idea how long i'm going to be here. i don't know when i'm going to get out of here, if ever. what i wanted to do was just curl up in a little ball somewhere and cry, because i was so tired and i was so emotionally drained that i wanted someone to take care of me. he put me in this cell. and it was a bare bunk, and it didn't have blankets and things on it. and it's cold, like steel and stone. there's no heat. i said something to him about, you know, is there a blanket or something. he said, "no. sleep. go to sleep. go to sleep," and clangs the door shut. i could see him fumbling around with a key, but he didn't really lock the door. and off he went.
i wrapped this blanket up around me and soon sort of drifted off a little bit. and the next thing i know -- >> [ speaking foreign language ] >> -- he tried to grab my blanket. the next thing i know, he's pulling. i'm pulling. and he's pulling. i'm not real big, but i'm real fast and nasty. if somebody is going to mess with me, i'm going to mess with them first. next thing i know, i hit this guy. and bang, he goes running off. and the next thing i know, the doors are opening and guards are coming in. grabbed me, start dragging me out. took me down to the basement.
and that was the beginning of -- i think that's when i first knew what -- what sorrow was. i've gone through a whole life. my life was so easy until then. but knowing the pain that i'm about to cause my folks, that really brought it home to me, of what i'd done. but, you know, my dad when i needed him, as angry as he was, and as disappointed as he might have been, he showed up within a week or so. it was wonderful to see him. and it was devastating to see him at the same time. to see me locked up like this, it had to be breaking his heart.
he said -- he says, "your mother wanted to come, but --" he said, "your mother wanted to come, but i didn't think it was a good idea." and it wasn't. i'm so glad she didn't come. it would have killed her to see me there. i finally received a four year and two month prison sentence. and that, to me, seemed a lifetime away. i was 23 when i was arrested. four years in prison? that's -- you know, that's a sixth of your life. but there is a question of escape. heroes charge!
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jail is escape, various ways to do it, places to go, how to do it. people had maps. and everybody had stories. and there was the train line that went through greece, and it took you over the border and you could jump off. and that was like the -- you take the midnight express. you take the escape train. you know, you talk about it. but there is a huge abyss of pain and fear between talking about it and trying it. but that's really all i thought about. for years. i had been in jail for like a year and a half now. i was desperate to escape from prison. one of the things i learned about was bakirkoy mental hospital. under turkish law, if you get classified criminally insane, they keep you? in this hospital. but i heard from all the prison scuttlebutt that it is a much easier place to escape from. that wasn't the hard part. the hard part was when you get out of it, what do you do then. you need someone on the outside. and that's where my friend
patrick was going to be part and parcel of this escape plan. he came and visited me in the prison. we remained stallworth friends throughout. there was nobody listening, so it was pretty easy to talk about the situation. >> from what everyone says, it's really easy to escape from. >> patrick would be on the outside with passports, papers, and a car. i would escape out of bakirkoy, he'd drive me over the border and escape. all i have to do to get in is just convince them i'm crazy. how hard could that be? none of my friends even had a doubt that i could convince them i was crazy. >> why should i talk to you? >> because i'm here to talk to you. >> no, you're not. you're not here to help me. you are trying to get inside my head, but i'm not going to let you. i put on a show. i didn't hold back. just tell me what you are writing. what you writing? what you scribbling down? i want to talk to him.
he's the one without a pen. whatever came out. no, i won't sit down just because you want me to. i'm not going to sit down. i got to go to bakirkoy for a period of observation. if prison was bad, bakirkoy was the bottom of the bird cage. i had never seen anything like it. everybody in there was there because there were criminally insane, meaning they had done something hideous. there was an ex-judge. and he was talking like he was in court. i mean, the man was totally out of his mind. it really was maddening. everywhere around you is insanity.
the bad part is, you are in bakirkoy. the good part is, it's probably easy to escape from there. the walls were old and pitted. you literally could climb over the top. so i'm waiting now for the right timing. patrick was off raising money. he had to get false papers, and so he got himself involved with people who could do that. i got a telegram one day from my dad. patrick was found dead in his -- in his hotel room with a bayonet through his chest.
he got himself involved with people from the underground getting false papers that somehow knew he had money. if i hadn't gotten in jail, if i hadn't done what i'd done, patrick would still be alive. it was probably the lowest point of prison for me. my parents are suffering because of me. now my friend is dead because of me. it cracked me. but what it also did was, it turned that escape switch off. i got sent back to the sagmalcilar prison. i realized i still had whatever it was, another year and a half, two years. and i just -- i sort of settled
into the fact that, okay, i guess i need to spend the rest of the time here. i certainly can't have anybody else die because of me. enough people have suffered because of me. i need to do this time. alous. they even destroy your lawn. ortho weed b gon kills weeds... not lawns. our label says it. your grass proves it. get ortho weed b gon. the label tells the story. gives you season-long control of all these types of bugs. spectracide gives you season-long control... of just ants. their label says so. bugged by more than ants? get ortho bug b gon. the label tells the story. dovisit tripadvisor new york. with millions of reviews and the best hotel prices...
hi, i'm richard lui with the hour's top stories. as of tonight, rolling stone is officially retracting its much discredited report on an alleged gang rape at the university of virginia. a result of the columbia journalism review investigation just out tonight that calls that rolling stone story a journalistic failure. parts of the country had snow for easter sunday. this is the scene in rochester new york where they got an inch of snow. and flakes falling in the sierra nevada mountains where a drought has gripped that state. now back to "lockup."
the american counsel showed up one day, 54 days before i was scheduled to go free. i was crossing off the schedule. i thought, he's here early. they screwed up. i'm going to get out early. as soon as i saw his face, i knew something really bad had happened. i was afraid. i was waiting to hear tragic news about somebody, family. and that's when he said, "the high court in hong kong --" >> wants to change the verdict. they want you for smuggling, not possession. >> at first, i couldn't quite fathom it. i'm going free. >> they are very clear about what they want. >> he said, "they are going to sentence you to life." the only discretion he had was he could lower life to 30 years.
but life, 30 years, it's all the same. i can't spend the rest of my life in prison. and that's what essentially was happening. the switch went back on. i needed to get very honed and totally focused on escaping. for me, for patrick, for my family. one way or the other, whether i escape or whether i get killed trying, i'm getting out of here. going to the island was incredible news for me. i didn't know how specifically i was going to get off the island, but i knew one way or the other, this is better than the istanbul prison.
it's 17 miles off the coast. the sea is considered to be the wall around the island. you could move around. you could be out in nature. it was -- it was heaven compared to the prison. but you are still locked in. imrali is a work island. boats come from the mainland and bring all this produce and we work in a canning factory, canning the produce. boats come into the harbor. and they all had these little dinghies tied behind them. then they have to leave at night because it is a prison island. one day, a storm was brewing and i could see the storm. and these clouds and the waves were starting to whip up. i realized, the boats were anchoring.
they were going to spend the night in the harbor because it was getting too rough at sea. and they have all got these little boats tied behind them. bingo. i knew, this is the night. the plan was to be out past the bed check, swim out, cut the rope on one of the dinghies and to row the dinghy to the mainland. i really had to screw my courage up. as much as i wanted to go, i was scared to death of what was going to happen. this was really leaping off the edge into the abyss here. i'm out past the bed check at night. if i'm caught, the worst. the scariest part was crawling down across the rocks because i'm exposed out here. it was like a stone pier that went out into the water. and they had guards and guns.
if they see me, i'm dead. i got to the edge of the water and went in. and suddenly, it's getting a little deeper and i'm breaststroking my way, trying to be quiet. trying not to cough. trying not to get a muggy of water in my mouth. i didn't want them hearing me coughing. i kind of collapsed in the bottom of this dinghy. i had a knife from the canning factory. i had that in my back pocket. and i was sawing the rope that connected it to the boat like
this when i heard a noise. up above my head, a hatch flapped open. i mean, he was right above me. my heart stopped. and i froze there. because i'm so open, i'm so vulnerable, if this guy sees me, i'm cooked. i'm done. this fisherman did this big hocking noise and hocked this big loogie out into the ocean. i heard the hatch slam shut again. i waited a half a beat. there was nobody there and i cut, and cut, and cut, and cut the damn rope. and as soon as i cut the rope, the dinghy started to drift away. what i needed to do was get into the open sea past the last of the boats. and i was so concentrated on rowing and not missing a stroke, i almost wasn't aware.
i looked up and realized that i'm -- i'm past the end of the island. i'm -- wow. i'm past the last of the boats. i'm free. for the first time in, like, five years i'm beyond the bounds. there is nobody telling me what to do. it was an incredible feeling. the problem became that once i got beyond the island, i really was kind of disoriented. it was 17 miles to the mainland. i'm screwed. i'm going to get swept way out to sea. i was frightened. and i was cold. and i was vulnerable. but what i realized was, if i die, i'm free. if i escape, i'm free. if i die, i'm free. and that was a very liberating feeling. one way or the other, i'm out of prison.
that feeling alone suffused me. all my muscles and all my body was just livened by the feeling that i'm out. and i did it. i'd have rowed forever. i would have rowed 100 miles. i'm going to row until i die or until i hit the damn beach. i was chanting to myself, "if they catch me, they will beat me. if i make it, i'm free." that kind of stuff. whatever kept me going, i was rowing and rowing. and i rowed and rowed. catch me, they will beat me. make it i'm free. catch me, they will beat me. make it, i'm free. suddenly, i lifted up a little bit. and the boat scraped. it was sand. the wave lifted up a little bit again. and i was there.
it was the sand. i was, like, on the beach. it truly was the finest morning of my whole life. ecstatic at being out here in the morning with the sun coming up and the sky over me. but i know that now there is going to be a bed check. and somewhere they are going to start counting, and they will realize, where's william? i'm still in the middle of turkey. the clock is ticking. they are looking for me. and if they find me now, i'm dead. ment. a 401(k) is the most sound way to go. let's talk asset allocation. sure. you seem knowledgeable, professional. would you trust me as your financial advisor? i would. i would indeed. well, let's be clear here. i'm actually a dj. [ dance music plays ] [laughs] no way! i have no financial experience at all. that really is you? if they're not a cfp pro, you just don't know.
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there is a river that separates greece and turkey. i know if i swim across the river, on the other side is greece. the greeks and the turks have been enemies for thousands of years, mortal enemies. no way the greeks are going to send me back to turkey unless i kill someone. i saw turkish border guards patrolling this open section. i know somewhere just up ahead is real freedom, which is what greece was for me. when the sun set, i started making my way out across this rocky field. i kind of dropped down into this irrigation ditch. i started to come up over the top of the ditch, and i heard footsteps. i couldn't quite make out where it was.
but it was getting closer. it was two turkish border guards walking along the top of the ridge that i was about to be going over. and i froze. i was curled up on the bottom thinking, stone, inanimate object. and i'm getting freaked now. it's like, that was really close. at one point, i heard dogs. and that freaked me out. for some reason, i took off my shoes and socks, these old beat up sneakers and socks, thinking if they were following my scent, these dogs would come and smell these sneakers and blow their noses out and they wouldn't be able to follow me anymore. it seemed like a good idea at the time. it was a terrible idea because
now i'm barefoot, and i could feel my feet getting chopped up, and there were twigs and rocks. as i moved through these trees, i could hear -- i could hear water. i could hear the river somewhere up ahead. i was desperate, desperate to get to that river. i came through trees, and there was the water in front of me. and it was like, that's -- that's it. i was so close, nothing was going to stop me. my fear now was, i know there are turkish soldiers here. i know there have to be greek soldiers over there. and whether it is a greek bullet or a turkish bullet, either way, i'm dead. all i wanted to do was make it across, and the river washed me down.
i swam and swam and swam until i kicked some mud. and i came -- and i was on this muddy river bank. but the reality was, i'm still not really sure that i'm free. i'm still not really sure this is greece. what i didn't want to do is run up to the first person and say, hey, here i am, and have them turn out to be a turkish soldier. i was so spaced out from being up and running and moving for so many days, i was having these visual hallucinations, these audio hallucinations. i couldn't trust my senses. my mind was, like, inflamed. at one point, i came up upon what was, like, a dusty road. i didn't even see it, but past
it what was like a wooden kiosk. what it was was a sentry booth. and as i passed it, suddenly this bayonet came down. dovisit tripadvisor new york. tripadvisor not only has millions of real traveler's reviews and opinions, but checks hundreds of websites, so people can get the best hotel prices. to plan, compare & book the perfect trip,
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[ speaking foreign language ] >> he was more freaked out than i was. he said something to me, and i -- i realized, i didn't understand him. [ speaking foreign language ] >> and he said something else. and i realized, i don't understand him. i speak good turkish. he's not talking turkish. it must be greek. it was like, yes! i collapsed on the ground with my arms in the air. more soldiers came up and running. and i'm on the ground, laughing like a loon.
i knew at that point, i made it. i landed at jfk. there was my dad, his hair all silver. and he was ecstatic to see me, as i was to see him. there is a photo of me and my dad sitting there. and i was, like, hanging onto him. once again, i'm a little boy, and my father's taking care of me. >> still feel guilty about it? >> oh, terribly guilty. terribly guilty. you know, my dad has been dead three years now, and i still feel guilty. once i got out, everything changed. i was a happy guy, and i was on
top of the world. and i've got a book. and i've got a movie. and i've made money. and i met my wife. and i had a wonderful life. and all that good stuff. but deep down, i still feel somehow i had to make -- make it up to him, what i put -- put him through. looking back now, i can talk about it being experience and life, and i learned so much. and i did. it's hard. but the cost to my family, that's hard. that's hard.t's hard. but the cost to my family, that's hard. that's hard.'s hard. but the cost to my family, that's hard. that's hard.s hard. but the cost to my family, that's hard. that's hard. hard.
but the cost to my family, that's hard. that's hard.hard. but the cost to my family, that's hard. that's hard.ard. but the cost to my family, that's hard. that's hard.rd. but the cost to my family, that's hard. that's hard.d. but the cost to my family, that's hard. that's hard.. but the cost to my family, that's hard. that's hard.but the cost to my that's hard. that's hard.but the cost to my that's hard. that's hard. [ phone ringing ] lisa called me on the phone. >> hey, kim. >> she asked me did i want to take a trip with her. >> i told kim that i was looking at expanding my nail business and i just needed to go to thailand. to go and pick up some products. mm-mm. i couldn't tell her all the details. >> i just thought i was helping lisa. >> y'all bringing these products.