Riding the Midnight Express

Billy Hayes, the man who lived the experience which the oscar winning film «Midnight Express» was based upon, will be performing from April 29th until May 1st in Beirut, his monodrama Riding the Midnight Express.

We asked him some questions to understand his path and how he would describe his experience.

 

Billy Hayes

 

1-What about your Monodrama Riding the Midnight Express and what is the difference between the film? There were many differences between my book Midnight Express and the film of the same name…For example:

—I didn’t kill a guard in my escape attempt

—I didn’t steal a guard’s uniform and skip out the door, as depicted in the film. I actually escaped off an island and rowed to the mainland 26 km away then ran thru Turkey for 3 days and eventually swam across the Maritsa river into Greece and freedom…

—My girlfriend wasn’t with me when I was arrested.

 

 2-Somehow all this adventure had positive effects on your life. You met your wife in Cannes during the screening of the movie. You wrote books, now you travel telling about your experience. Can we consider it’s the major event that changed your life? Do you think that imprisonment changed you in a better man, awakening your sense of responsibility? Turkish prison was the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me. It forced me to grow up and take responsibility for my actions. I learned about strengths and weaknesses I never knew about. I got my books written and published. I met my wife at the Cannes FF when the movie premiered there in 1978. My experience in Turkey was truly the pivotal point in my life. Everything is before or after Turkey.

 

3-You have some reservations for the way the facts were depicted in the movie, for you some circumstances are exaggerated. Don’t you think that all scenarios include some fictional parts? Why did you feel you had to make excuses to Turkey, a country that sentenced you thirty years for smuggling hashish? Some of differences in the script I understand as a filmmaker myself now–economic considerations and the need to focus the story into a 2 hour film. My biggest problem is the fact that you don’t see any “good” Turks in the film and this not true to my experience. I loved Istanbul and got along well with the Turkish friends I had there. The courtroom speech in the film (written by Oliver Stone) has me cursing out the nation of Turkey and calling them all pigs. In truth what I said in court is that if I’m being resentenced to life in prison I can’t agree with you, all I can do is forgive you. And I’m not making excuses for Turkey. They had a law, which I didn’t agree with but I broke the law and received a 4 year sentence. When, after 4 years in prison, the sentence was changed to life, due to the US government pressuring Turkey and other countries to increase their drug penalties, I thought that was unfair and that the penalty certainly did not fit the crime. At that point I vowed to myself that I would escape or die trying…