A Life Sentence For Smuggling

Today on Hempresent Vivian has a very special guest, Billy Hayes American writer, actor, and film director best known for his autobiographical book Midnight Express. Hayes was caught trying to smuggle four pounds of hashish out of Turkey on October 7, 1970. He was originally sentenced to four years and two months in a Turkish prison; with his release date weeks away, he learned that the authorities had chosen to penalize him with a life sentence for smuggling instead of possession. Hayes was imprisoned at Sağmalcılar Prison in Turkey. Following an incident in prison, he was transferred in 1972 to Bakırköy Psychiatric Hospital, described as a “lunatic asylum.”

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The United States Department of State on several occasions pressured Turkey to transfer sentencing to the United States, however Turkish foreign minister Melih Esenbel stated that the United States was not in a position to dispute a sentence issued by a Turkish court. Esenbel stated privately to officials that a release might be possible on humanitarian grounds if Hayes’ physical or mental health was deteriorating, but in a private consultation, Hayes stated to U.S. diplomats that his experience at Bakırköy Psychiatric Hospital in 1972 was highly traumatic and he did not have confidence that the hospital would certify him for early release; Hayes also stated that he felt attempts to win early release would jeopardize his prospects of being transferred to a more desirable half-open prison. On May 12, 1975, the Turkish Constitutional Court declared amnesty for all drug offenses, which shortened Hayes’ sentence from life to 30 years. He was transferred to İmralı Prison on July 11, 1975.