“I’ve always loved Turkey”
Billy Hayes was born on 3 April 1947 in New York and, like many of his generation, he avoided the draft and took illegal drugs. He confessed to have illegally carried drugs between countries in Europe.
As a 23-year-old, Roman Catholic student, he visited Istanbul where he smoked hashish regularly. On an autumnal day in 1970 he foolishly tried to smuggle 1.8 kg (41b) of the drug out of the country. At the time airlines had been on alert because of a PLO threat and the airport authorities searched all the passengers. When a guard felt a package under Hayes’s shirt he assumed it was a bomb.
He gingerly pulled up the shirt and saw the drugs. Arrested, Hayes was sentenced to four years and two months in a Turkish prison. In 1974 that sentence was increased to life. In July 1975 Hayes was transferred to Imrali Island Prison on the Bosporus. During a storm on 2 October 1975 he swam ashore and then made his way, first to Istanbul on 4-5 October then to Greece. On 20 October 1975 he was deported as a bad influence “upon the youth of Greece”.
Yesilkoy International Airport, Istanbul, Turkey
Wednesday 7 October 1970
Hayes arrived at Kennedy International Airport in New York on 24 October 1975. He wrote a book about his ordeal entitled Midnight Express, which was later filmed starring Brad Davis and directed by Alan Parker.
The film is different from the true story in many respects, not least in that the Turkish guards never raped him nor did he kill any of them. “I loved the movie, but I wish they’d shown some good Turks. You don’t see a single one in the movie, and there were a lot of them, even in the prison. It created this impression that all Turks are like the people in Midnight Express.”
In June 2007 Hayes returned to Turkey for the first time since his escape. “I’ve always loved Turkey,” he said. “But it’s been a strange psychological experience to come back.”