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The Midnight Express Letters: From a Turkish Prison 1970-1975 Paperback – 1 Mar 2013
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About the Author
Billy Hayes has been writing, speaking, acting, and directing in theater, film, and television since his escape in 1975. He lives with his wife, Wendy, in Los Angeles, still practices yoga daily, and appreciates every sweet, magical moment. For more information, please go to www.billyhayes.com.
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There were still quite a few things I hadn't known before....first that the High Court in Ankara actually wanted to give him the life/30 year sentence from the beginning but the lower courts in Istanbul kept giving him four years until Ankara finally put its foot down and extended Billy's term to life for which the Istanbul court could only lower it to no less to 30 years.
Also the transfer back to an American prison that his U.S. lawyer Mike Griffith and others had been working on to get for him in the next two years since he was resentenced was far from a sure thing. Relations between the Turks and U.S. were still overly strained (and I'm sure the controversy over Billy's case in both countries didn't do anything to improve them either) and the continuing instability of the Turkish government, plus other international disagreements between the two nations more than once stalled negotiations in Billy's case.
Billy and his lawyers had also tried other legal options to secure his release, which included requesting a special pardon (which was rejected by the country's Minister of Justice on grounds that Billy did not meet the legal standards under Turkish law to be eligible for a pardon). In addition to the 30 year sentence the court also hit Billy with a 19,000 lira fine (1,100 in American money), a fine neither he nor his family (who were already in heavy debt at that point paying for his defense) had the money to pay. The Court of Appeals upholds his 30 year sentence, but do reduce the fine remarkably. (Having found the 30 year sentence 'adequate' they deemed it cruel and barbaric to hit him with a heavy fine. This really makes my blood boil. the 30 year sentence was 'adequate' and 'fair', but it's the fine that was cruel and barbaric). Billy would have much preferred the option of paying the fine and having the sentence dropped but is aware all too well that's not going to happen.
Apparently the Turkish government was thinking about excluding all the smugglers from the first amnesty in 1974 (probably because they still wanted to prove they were determined to come down hard on drug offenders, especially American ones). Only a hunger strike apparently prevented them from doing this. (When the amnesty does come, smugglers only get 5 years off their sentence while, killers, rapists, thieves and other crooks got 12 years though a year later due to protests from civil liberty groups all the smugglers, including Billy, get the other 7).
Billy writes many letters to his parents, friends, his girlfriend Barbara (who he called Lillian in ME). Reading these letters and the events in them, I can't help but admire how this guy was able to make it through such a long and torturous ordeal (an ordeal we all know could have been avoided had he not been smuggling drugs in the first place, I know). He needed to write to his loved ones, to pour out his soul, to keep him going.
Considering the way the Turkish courts and government kept jerking him around, before and after they retried and convicted him for smuggling and extended his term to life or rather 30 years, it's no wonder by the time we reach his final letters leading up to just before he escaped, he got fed up with playing the waiting game. (And it does sound like his lawyer, though his heart was in the right place as well as his father, were a bit too optimistic about the transfer coming through. Billy on the other hand, all too well aware at this point that the Turkish government can say one thing carrying out a decision and end up doing the exact opposite).
It also strikes me from reading Billy''s letters on what was going on with his case that most of the time the people in Washington could only offer the advice that he needed to sit and wait and see what the Turkish government would do (a wait that ended up dragging for months). Billy did have some good people fighting for him, prominent senators from his state and congressman, but unfortunately their efforts proved in vain (not their fault though, I believe the Turkish officials were too stubborn and too unwilling to make ANY compromises in Billy's case. This is just my opinion though).
In reading Billy's letters to his parents, he's all too well aware of the pain and shame and disappointment he has caused his parents by doing what he did and ending up in prison. You can read the guilt and pain in his letters. And the longing to be back home of course.
Billy's letters to Barbara, you can feel the intensity of his feelings, to be loved and near a woman again.
Each letter gives insight into his unique relationship with each person in his life and into his mind and experiences. The first heartbreaking letter is to his parents letting them know what a nightmare he has walked into. As a Mom myself I felt how painful this would be to hear and as a daughter I could also empathise with Billy's guilt and sorrow knowing how much this news would hurt them. As you continue to read his letters to his parents you also see how much information he holds back (in comparison to letters to his friends and girlfriend) to spare them from more worry.
His letters to his girlfriend, Barbara, were the most intimate glimpse at Billy's heart and I was surprised at how poetic and lyrical some of his words are. It was also interesting to me that his interest in yoga, meditation and spiritual reflection helped him keep his grasp on sanity and some moments of tranquility during an awful experience. The biggest feeling that comes across in these letters is "waiting." Waiting for news, waiting for hoped for words from lawyers waiting for letters from friends, waiting for some good news. Waiting for hope that is always delayed. Waiting as Billy is aware that time is passing away in hours and years out of his young life. I saw his emotions become darker and more intense and this book become more painful to read toward the end. All in all this was a fascinating read and a close look at endurance of the human heart.
The boggling background to his boggling tale.
No wonder his Marquette University nickname was "Crazy."