Billy Hayes (writer, born 1947)

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Billy Hayes
William Hayes

(1947-04-03) April 3, 1947 (age 72)
New York City, New York, U.S.
ResidenceLos Angeles, California
Alma materMarquette University (withdrew)[1]
OccupationWriter, actor, film director
Home townNorth Babylon, New York [2]
Criminal chargeDrug smuggling
Spouse(s)Wendy West
Parent(s)William and Dorothy Hayes

William Hayes (born April 3, 1947) is an American writer, actor, and film director. He is best known for his autobiographical book Midnight Express about his experiences in and escape from a Turkish prison after being convicted of smuggling hashish. He was one of hundreds of U.S. citizens in foreign jails serving drug charge sentences following a drug smuggling crackdown by foreign governments.[3]


Hayes, an American student, 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.[citation needed]

Hayes was imprisoned at Sağmalcılar Prison in Istanbul.[4] Following an incident in prison, he was transferred in 1972 to Bakırköy Psychiatric Hospital, described as a "lunatic asylum." 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.[5] 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;[5] 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.

Declassified State Department telegrams indicated that in discussions between the U.S. embassy and Vahap Aşıroğlu, Turkish Director of Consular Affairs, Aşıroğlu believed Hayes would probably be released from prison on parole in October 1978, which in practice meant that a local prosecutor would declare him persona non grata and expel him from the country.[6]

He escaped from İmralı on October 2, 1975, taking a rowboat at night to Bandirma, blending in with locals and then heading westbound across the border to Greece. He was deported from Thessaloniki to Frankfurt[why?] on October 20, 1975 after several weeks' detention and interrogation about what military intelligence Hayes possessed about Turkey.


Hayes wrote a book on his experiences, Midnight Express, which was later adapted into the 1978 film of the same name starring Brad Davis. The film was directed by Alan Parker, with a screenplay by Oliver Stone. The movie differs from Hayes' account in his book. Among the differences is a scene in which Hayes kills the prison guard Hamidou "the Bear" (portrayed by Paul L. Smith), the main antagonist of the story. In fact, the prison guard was killed in 1973 by a recently released prisoner, whose family Hamidou had insulted while beating the prisoner, years before Hayes' actual escape.

For legal reasons,[citation needed] the book and film adaptation were deliberately inaccurate. In one interview, Hayes admitted making several trips to Turkey to bring hashish back to the United States. His lawyer informed him that he could be arrested for such claims.[citation needed]

In 2010, in an episode of National Geographic Channel's Locked Up Abroad, titled "The Real Midnight Express",[7] Hayes tells his version of the full story about being sent to the infamous Turkish Sağmalcilar prison, eventually escaping from the Marmara Sea prison on İmralı island. Hayes has now written the sequels Midnight Return (Escaping Midnight Express) and The Midnight Express Letters - from a Turkish Prison, 1970-1975, a collection of the original letters written home to family and friends during his imprisonment.

Acting and writing[edit]

Hayes is still[when?] active in the entertainment industry, specifically acting and writing. He appeared in the Charles Bronson film Assassination as a hired killer.

One of his successes was writing and directing 2003's Southside (later released in the US as A Cock and Bull Story) which won numerous awards, including the 2002 L.A. Drama Critics' Circle award.[8] On June 30, 2010, the National Geographic television channel aired Locked Up Abroad: The Real Midnight Express.

Hayes has been traveling the world with his one-man show, Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes, since it premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2013.

Interview on Midnight Express film[edit]

During the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, Alinur Velidedeoğlu, a Turkish advertiser, met Billy Hayes by chance and interviewed him on the film Midnight Express. Hayes expressed his disappointment with parts of the film adaptation, especially its portrayal of all Turks as bad, and his regret that Turkey's image was negatively affected by the film. Hayes also displayed affection for Turkey and Istanbul. Although the Interpol warrant for him had by then been set aside, he explained that while he wanted to return, he hesitated to do so out of concern that many Turks might blame him for the negative publicity the movie had generated.

The video was made available on YouTube.[9][10] Hayes did finally return to Turkey on June 14, 2007, to attend the 2nd Istanbul Conference on Democracy and Global Security, organized by the Turkish National Police (TNP) and the Turkish Institute for Police Studies (TIPS), to amend the negative implications of his book. He held a press conference on June 15 and made an apology to the Turkish people.[11]


  1. ^ Contreras, Joe, "Busted at the Border: I'm Billy Hayes...least I used to be.", The Harvard Crimson, November 4, 1978
  2. ^ Shapiro, Harriet, "Billy Hayes Stepped Off the Midnight Express and Embarked on a Trip of Self-Discovery", People magazine, December 09, 1985 Vol. 24 No. 24
  3. ^ "Americans Abroad: The Jail Scene". Time. April 13, 1970. Retrieved January 6, 2009.
  4. ^ INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM HAYES/CODEL MURPHY / 030925Z MAY 74, U.S. State Department, Ankara, May 1974.
  5. ^ a b HAYES CASE / 190938Z MAR 75, U.S. State Department telegram, Ankara, March 1975.
  7. ^ Locked Up Abroad: The Real Midnight Express Archived November 3, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Riding The Midnight Express With Billy Hayes". Retrieved July 6, 2017.
  9. ^ Interview on YouTube
  10. ^ Interview Part 2 on YouTube
  11. ^ Handelman, Stephen, "Revisiting the land of 'Midnight Express'", Toronto Star, June 24, 2007

External links[edit]