Billy Hayes poses for a portrait in West Islip. (April...

Billy Hayes poses for a portrait in West Islip. (April 25, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

Many of the choicest bits of Billy Hayes' life -- five years in a torturous Turkish prison for trying to smuggle hashish, followed by a daring nighttime escape -- have been told.

Versions have appeared in his book "Midnight Express," a 1978 Alan Parker movie of the same name, a play Hayes wrote, and in an episode of the National Geographic channel TV show, "Locked Up Abroad."

That 2010 episode drew millions of viewers and convinced the North Babylon native that the public still wanted to hear his story. Hence his latest memoir, "Midnight Return," published this spring as an e-book.

"All that I've become and all that I've learned and all that I have to offer, it all comes out of that," said Hayes, 65, who lives in Los Angeles but returned to Long Island this spring on business that included meeting with a New York City producer for the play and publicity for the book.

The commercial success, in the late 1970s, of the original book and movie meant that Hayes' life story would never again be entirely his own. He was imprisoned in 1970 and escaped five years later.

Paula Uruburu, an English professor at Hofstra University who was a teenager in Massapequa at the time, describes its appropriation as a fable of youth culture. "Teachers and parents used him as an example. They pointed to him -- 'This is what will happen if you don't obey the rules.' "

In many of Long Island's middle-class neighborhoods, his story might still shock: to be young, white and American guarantees nothing.

Most of the 242-page "Return" takes place after the movie made Hayes an uneasy international figure, feted at Cannes Film Festival and reviled elsewhere by those who saw in him all that had gone wrong with American counterculture.

Its narrator lives with guilt, not for breaking drug laws he still considers absurd but for the pain he caused people who loved him when he got caught.

The wounded include his parents, conservative Irish Catholics who took out a second mortgage on their modest split-level home to pay his legal fees; the girlfriend he turned to for comfort in letters while in prison but pushed away as a free man; and the friend and fellow inmate identified by the pseudonym Harvey Bell, who took the fall for a failed escape attempt the duo planned and remained in prison after Hayes made it out alone.

In real-life letters included in the book, Bell, who was eventually released, sounds by turns bitter, congratulatory and unhinged. He is the man Hayes might have become, had he not escaped. "While I'm doing all this promotional stuff -- had the book, the film, and life was wonderful -- he was going through hell on the inside," Hayes said.

Getting caught with four pounds of drugs in Turkey "forced me to stop, forced me to evaluate myself, look at myself," he said. "I wasn't happy with a lot of what I discovered . . . I was so self-centered and selfish I wasn't thinking of anyone but myself."

Hayes still gets a yearly check of about $21,000 from Columbia Pictures, he said, his share of continued movie profits, but makes his living acting and directing theater. He draws inspiration "from stuff I want to forget," he said.

People who know his story sometimes ask him for advice. "Do what you like and know what you're doing," he tells them. If that leads to prison, "the reality is there's not much someone on the outside can do to help someone inside."

Hayes is married to a woman he met at Cannes. His father is dead; his mother, a sister and a brother still live on Long Island, and he is close with them. He has rekindled a friendship with his ex-girlfriend but says he has little contact with the man he calls Harvey. "We've drifted apart, the last few years . . . I drift apart from everybody after a while."

In a phone interview a few weeks later, he said this had nothing to do with prison or his own psychology, but was "just a fact of getting older," a function of geography and the peculiar trajectories lives take.

Maybe it's not inevitable, he said now. He'd set up a Facebook page, partly for publicity purposes. "I'm reconnecting with people I haven't had any contact with for 30, 40 years or more," he said.

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