Billy Hayes, then 28, is welcomed home by cousin Florence...

Billy Hayes, then 28, is welcomed home by cousin Florence Wizard on the porch of his parents' house in North Babylon. (Oct. 24, 1975) Credit: Newsday File / Jim Peppler

He got caught trying to smuggle 4.3 pounds of hashish out of Turkey in 1970 and received a state-imposed 30-year prison sentence in a Turkish jail.

The story of his nightmarish incarceration and harrowing escape back to the United States terrified anyone who ever saw "Midnight Express."

But now, North Babylon native Billy Hayes, 63, is the subject of a new examination of his story - 35 years after his escape and three years after he visited Turkey to extend a formal apology for how the country was portrayed in the 1978 movie by Oliver Stone.

His story will be featured in the season premiere of National Geographic Channel's "Locked Up Abroad."

Titled "The Real Midnight Express," the show is scheduled to air Wednesday at 10 p.m.

It promises to tell of Hayes' arrest and incarceration in Turkey "as it was" - and not as portrayed by Brad Davis in the movie that won two Oscars, including one for the screenplay by Stone based on the book by Hayes and William Hoffer.

"The biggest problem I had with the film is the fact that you don't see any good Turks at all in the movie," Hayes told the entertainment website Crave Online this week. "It creates an overall impression that Turkey is this terrible place and Turks are a terrible people, which is not valid or true, both to my own experience and to reality."

"I actually loved Istanbul," he told the website. "I got along great with the Turks until I was arrested."

Hayes returned to Turkey in June 2007 as a featured guest speaker at the second Istanbul Conference on Democracy and Global Security - invited at the request of the Turkish National Police.

Reached then at his hotel in Istanbul, Hayes described the arrangements as "delicate" and said he feared publicity surrounding the trip could jeopardize his appearance.

However, it was reported he told the conference that the image of Turkey as depicted in the film "was not fair to them or true to my experience."

Hayes recently told Crave Online that he agreed to the National Geographic show in part to set the record straight.

Growing up in North Babylon, Hayes was a student at Marquette University in Milwaukee when he was arrested at the airport in Istanbul trying to smuggle about 2 kilos of hashish taped to his body onto a flight to the United States.

A national court sentenced him to a 4-year prison term.

But near the end of that term, amid a political dispute over aid to Turkey, the Turkish government appealed that decision - and on Sept. 10, 1973, Judge Rasih Cerikcioglu of the Sixth Heavy Duty Penalty Court in Istanbul apologetically sentenced Hayes, then 26, to an additional 30 years in prison.

Hayes escaped to Greece two years later.

"I don't like Turkish prisons," Hayes told Crave Online, "and I certainly don't like the Turkish legal system. But you know, you could fill in the blank with any country in the world and you're not going to like their prison."

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