Banged up Abroad

Thursday 18th February 10.30pm

The drama-documentary series that tells the real-life stories of travellers detained overseas returns. The first episode recounts the tale of musician David Evans, who agreed to smuggle cocaine out of Venezuela – only to be arrested and imprisoned in one of the toughest penal systems in the world.

In 2006, David Evans was a struggling musician playing small-time gigs in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. “I felt like a failure,” he recalls. Financial pressures were bearing down on David and his girlfriend, Julie Goldstein. At one point, Julie was forced to pawn her beloved saxophone. “To pawn it was a sign we were deeply in trouble,” David says.

Over the course of time, David became friendly with a flashy, well-dressed drug dealer by the name of Melvin. He learnt that Melvin not only dealt drugs but smuggled them into the country. The guitarist began to wonder if drug smuggling could be the solution to all his problems. “This is crazy but I was intrigued,” he admits. “I’m in deep, I need the money.”

David agreed to travel on an all expenses-paid trip to Venezuela to pick up 3kg of cocaine worth £30,000 and deliver it to Amsterdam. He would earn $5,000 for the trip. Julie, meanwhile, was preparing for a tour in Europe. She believed her boyfriend was flying directly to Amsterdam and would meet her there. “Julie had no idea what I was doing and that’s the way I wanted it,” he says.

In Caracas, David struggled to cope with the noise and heat. Arriving at his hotel, he lost his hat. David looks back on this incident as the beginning of his downhill slide. “I felt like I’d left behind a part of me,” he says. When David finally met Melvin’s contact, he found the man deeply suspicious. After spending several days killing time, David was directed to collect a black bag full of drugs from a street corner. Once the drugs were in his possession, he made his way to the airport.

While waiting for his flight, David heard his name paged by security. Melvin had assured him that all the guards were bribed and he should not worry if they questioned him. “I was calm about it,” he recalls. “Nothing good comes from worrying.” David waited while a guard searched his bag and inspected the spray canisters containing the cocaine. He appeared to be in the clear – then a second guard arrived to take another look. To David’s horror, this man broke open the canisters and found the drugs. “I’m going to jail,” was David’s only thought.

David was held in a detention centre full of violent, scheming criminals. “They’re trying to figure out what you’re made of, what they can do to you, what they can get from you,” he recollects. With his one phone call, David rang Julie, now in Amsterdam, and broke the shocking news of his incarceration. “I just felt like all the blood had gone from my head,” she says. Back in the prison, David had to fight his corner to stop thieves taking his money and cigarettes.

The musician was sentenced to eight years in jail and sent to the terrifying Los Toques prison. “Los Toques is where they put people who have been chased out of all the other prisons,” he says. “They are the crazy ones.” Los Toques is ruled by criminal gangs, all of whom are at war with each other. Inmates carry machine guns and there are numerous murders each year.

While the embassy tried to organise David’s repatriation, Julie supported him by sending money. With this cash, David bought himself a guitar. “That guitar saved my life,” he says. His musical skills won him favour and protection from one of the prison bosses. He eventually spent over a year in Los Toques before being transferred to an American jail, where the authorities reduced his sentence to 27 months. Two years after his arrest, this film follows David as he reunites with Julie for the first time.

Dear Simon,  I just saw the “Banged Up Abroad” about you and my husband and I immediately got out our laptops to see if we could find out anything further on-line.  My search led me here and if I’m doing things correctly it looks as though you’ve been allowed to go home.  I pray this is true because you appear to be a solid person who never deserved what happened to you.  Just know that there are many people out here who are thinking of you and want so badly to help Please let me know if you there is anything further that needs to be done.  Be well.  Peace.   NancyJ

 

The drama-documentary series that tells the gripping real-life stories of travellers detained overseas concludes. Using interviews and archive news footage, this final edition recounts the experiences of a South African couple who were taken hostage by Islamist extremists while on holiday in Malaysia.

In April 2000, Callie and Monique Strydom were enjoying a diving holiday on the exotic Malaysian island of Sipadan. The Johannesburg couple were quick to settle in to the relaxed pace of life at the small resort and made friends with some of the other guests. “We just felt so safe and peaceful,” recalls Monique. “You wouldn’t think there would be danger around the corner.”

One day, as the couple sat chatting with friends, they heard a commotion in the kitchen. All of a sudden, a group of men burst onto the deck brandishing an array of weapons, including a bazooka. After handing over all their valuables, the captives were frogmarched into the garden. “At that point, we really thought they were going to kill us,” says Callie.

Instead, they were led down to the beach where two small craft were moored. The hostages numbered 21 in total – ten tourists and 11 staff. Together with their kidnappers, they boarded the boats. Twenty hours later, they docked at a land mass that lay 200 miles to the east. It was Jojo island in the Philippines, but the hostages had no idea where they were.

Fortunately, some of the people on Sipadan had escaped the thugs and were able to alert the authorities and the media. The Minister of Defence for the Philippines, Orlando Mercado, suspected the kidnappers were part of Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf. “This is a fanatical terrorist group that has been using kidnappings and assassinations as its weapons,” he said when interviewed. His suspicions proved correct. The rebels invited reporters into the camp so that they could tell the world about the plight of the hostages and publicise their own demands.

Five days passed and Callie and Monique learned that the Philippines military was moving in. However, the army began to shell the entire island. The hostage-takers and prisoners were forced to join together and run for cover. After days hiking through the jungle without water or food, the group finally broke through the military cordon. “I think that was the turning point in our relationship with the rebels,” says Monique. “They came forward and they protected us.”

However, this unity was to be short-lived. “Initially they had said, ‘We will not rape the women, we will not kill you’,” says Monique. “And we held on to that.” But that trust was broken when the rebels began to attack some of the Western women.

After four months of fruitless negotiations between the gang and the Philippines government, Monique and Callie’s spirits were flagging. But one night, Monique had a dream that they would be freed and would go on to do good works. Her dream was realised in the week that followed when Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi offered to pay the gang out. There was one catch – the hostages were to be released in stages, and Monique was to leave one day before her husband. “My worst fear was that he was not going to get out,” says Monique.

After 127 days in captivity, the husband and wife both returned safely to South Africa to a hero’s welcome. “What happened to us really united the country,” says Monique. “It was black and white.” Monique has since set up a trust that has raised over £200,000 for charity.

Just to say have not seen the show myself as i am still in Peru !!!!!

But thanks for all the support and i will update if anything happens

Simon

The drama-documentary series that tells the gripping real-life stories of travellers detained overseas returns for a new run. The first episode recounts the tale of Sarah Jackson, who duped her friend Simon into helping her smuggle drugs from Peru to the UK. Seized by police, the pair were split up and sent to different jails as they awaited trial.

In 2007, young mother Sarah Jackson found her party lifestyle in the otherwise sedate surroundings of Milton Keynes had finally caught up with her. She needed to pay off £3,000 to a loan shark, so she made a drastic decision. Sarah agreed to become a drugs courier, smuggling cocaine from Peru to the UK.

In order to make her trip seem like a holiday, Sarah invited her gullible friend Simon to come with her. Simon was to provide a cover of respectability and play the role of unwitting accomplice. At the last moment, Sarah tried to back out of the deal by telling the loan shark she had lost her passport. However, her creditor simply provided her with a false passport featuring a picture that looked nothing like her.

Despite the dodgy document, Sarah and Simon’s trip seemed to go smoothly. As she passed through check-in and passport control, Sarah’s confidence grew. Once in Peru, the pair enjoyed the beauty of the Peruvian Andes. But while Simon was innocently roaming the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, Sarah was secretly taking delivery of nearly 10kg of cocaine.

As the pair prepared to return to London, Sarah got rid of Simon at Lima airport so she could check in alone. After running a gauntlet of dogs, police and security checks, she was briefly stopped by an airline official who had doubts about her passport. Her luggage was then held up after being X-rayed. Desperately trying to hide her nerves, Sarah was convinced that the police had discovered the drugs – but she miraculously made it through. The coast seemed to be clear until, all of a sudden, a polite voice asked her to wait, and Sarah was arrested by the anti-drugs police.

Meanwhile, Simon – oblivious to Sarah’s plight – went to look for her at the check-in counter, only to be arrested and dragged into an interrogation room. Moments later, he came face to face with Sarah in handcuffs and saw the cocaine laid out before him. It was only then that Simon realised his friend’s betrayal.

Unfortunately, Simon’s shyness and stumbling speech only served to convince the police that he was as guilty as Sarah. In due course, the pair were thrown into the nightmare world of Peruvian prisons. Shunted from one holding cell to another, it was Simon who suffered the most. The filth and violence of jail was made worse by knowing it was his supposed friend Sarah who put him there. After 18 days of fear, hunger and confusion Simon and Sarah were separated. Sarah was sent to an easy-going women’s jail while Simon was left to rot in an overcrowded nightmare of a men’s prison.

Ten months later, the Peruvian authorities finally accepted Sarah’s confession and let Simon out of prison. Yet he is still not free; he must stay and wait in Lima, living in a squalid room not much better than a cell. Only when Sarah is sentenced will he find out if he can go home or if he will be thrown back in jail. Yet the Peruvian penal system is so backed up that less than one in eight inmates at Sarah’s prison have been sentenced. Simon could be waiting for years to come.

The drama-documentary series that tells the gripping real-life stories of travellers detained overseas concludes. The last episode in the series tells the story of a diplomat whose family was taken hostage by Taiwan’s most wanted criminal.

On a November evening in 1997, South African military attaché Colonel McGill Alexander was settling in for an evening at home with his wife and three children. But the night was to take a shocking turn when a man broke into the house and took the family hostage. The assailant was Chen Chin-hsing, a notorious felon who had committed a host of robberies, kidnappings, murders and sexual assaults.

Chen was known to the Taiwanese public because of a high-profile case in which he and a group of accomplices abducted and later murdered Pai Hsiao-yen, the teenage daughter of a famous Taiwanese television presenter. While some of the gang were apprehended, others, including Chen, escaped and rampaged across the island nation on a crime spree. One of those captured was Chen’s wife, Chang Su-chen, and it was to negotiate her release that he decided to seize Western prisoners. The Alexander family provided the perfect target.

After entering the victims’ home, Chen proceeded to tie the family up and then made them contact the local media. He claimed he would kill the Alexanders if his demands were not met – chiefly the release of Chang Su-chen. Chen also requested conference with a lawyer and asked that the authorities give him and his family safe passage out of the country.

Having served over 30 years in the military, McGill was experienced in battle and capable of killing with his bare hands. However, with the lives of those he held most dear at stake, he could not afford to take any risks. McGill instructed his family to position their bodies in such a way as to avoid being fatally shot and called on his negotiation skills in his dealings with Chen. But this measured approach was to be in vain when the Taiwanese police arrived at the scene.

With a wanted criminal in their sights, the police were intent on his capture. A gun battle ensued in which McGill’s 22-year-old daughter, Melanie, was used as a human shield. She sustained bullet wounds, as did her father, but at 10pm they were both released and taken to hospital for treatment. This left McGill completely powerless to influence what happened to his wife, teenage daughter and seven-month-old foster son who were still in the hands of a ruthless thug.

Fortunately, the bloodshed had resulted in the authorities declaring a ceasefire. They could now begin negotiations with Chen. Talks continued throughout the night and into the following day, until the baby was released. Chen then won the support of a lawyer and politician who had become involved in discussions. With a guarantee of legal representation for himself and his family, Chen freed 12-year-old Christine from his clutches.

Only one hostage remained – McGill’s wife, Anne. Finally, police promised that they would work to prove Chang Su-chen’s innocence, thus persuading Chen to surrender his final prisoner. The ploy worked – Anne walked free and Chen followed at 8pm. The crisis had ended and all the members of the McGill family made a full recovery. In 1999, Chen was sentenced to death. Shortly before his execution, McGill and Anne Alexander publicly forgave him.

The drama-documentary series that tells the gripping real-life stories of travellers detained overseas continues. Using re-enactments and interviews, this week’s instalment tells the story of Amardeep Bassey, a British reporter who found himself incarcerated in a Pakistani jail.

On 3 May 2002, Amardeep Bassey arrived in Pakistan on a professional and personal journey. A British-born Asian, Amardeep was on a mission to tell the stories of everyday Afghans in the wake of the US-led assault on the Taliban. After flying into Islamabad, the journalist travelled to Peshawar to meet up with the region’s human rights commissioner, Tariq Khan. The official had organised an escort to ensure Amardeep’s safe passage. Tariq also quelled Amardeep’s fears over the fact that he had not arranged a multiple-entry visa into Pakistan, stating that he could simply visit the passport office at the checkpoint on re-entry.

That evening, Amardeep was introduced to his bodyguard, Noushad. Together with a group of tribesmen, the men shared a few drinks and chatted about the trip. Noushad noticed Amardeep’s watch, which had a basic camera built into it. The men were fascinated by the gadget and set about taking candid snaps of each other. “Taking that watch with me to Pakistan and Afghanistan was probably the worst mistake I made,” Amardeep reflects.

The next day, Noushad told Amardeep that he had to be reticent about his true nationality and religion. The journalist obediently donned a salwar kameez and covered the Sikh bracelet on his wrist. The road to Kabul was littered with makeshift checkpoints manned by outlaws, but the pair ran the gauntlet of barriers unscathed.

Day one was a success. Although Amardeep’s interview subjects knew he worked for a newspaper, they were open and willing to candidly discuss their experiences of the war. But this luck was to run dry. “That was my last day of freedom,” Amardeep says. “The next day everything changed.”

Early the next morning, with his notebook filled to the brim with his collected stories, Amardeep departed Afghanistan with his faithful bodyguard in tow. Although the pair wanted to head back to the first checkpoint, their taxi driver refused to take that route. When they arrived at an alternative border crossing, the gate was surrounded by hundreds of Afghan refugees. “I pulled out my British passport and, like the Red Sea, everyone kind of parted in front of me,” he remembers.

But as soon as passport control realised the British national did not have a valid visa, he was interrogated roughly by a military intelligence officer who declared him to be an Indian spy. Evidence against him was held up in the form of his camera watch, his ‘coded’ shorthand scribbling and his Sikh bracelet.

Amardeep was thrown into Landi Kotal military prison. Although Noushad was free to go, he insisted on accompanying his charge – as to leave him would be to go against his tribal code. After almost two weeks in appalling conditions, a British official arrived to meet with Amardeep. “This very English-looking gentleman was waiting for me, all suited and booted in the 42 degree heat,” he recalls. All the envoy could offer him was a single annual visit for every year of his 15-year sentence.

After 28 days of incarceration, Amardeep was suddenly released. But to his horror, he realised that Noushad was being kept behind bars for one more week. Back in Britain, Amardeep never forgot the loyalty that this virtual stranger showed him throughout the ordeal. Five years after their shared experience, the film follows Amardeep as he is reunited with his friend. “A big chunk of me has been left back in Pakistan and I think it’s still there,” he says. “And I don’t think I’m going to reclaim that part of me until I go back again.”

The drama-documentary series that tells the gripping real-life stories of travellers detained overseas continues. This week’s instalment follows the story of Texas teen Lia McCord, who travelled to Bangladesh to retrieve a haul of heroin. Her plans to put the $20,000 payment towards a university education were dashed when she was captured and thrown into a Dhaka prison. She narrowly escaped the death penalty but was handed down a life sentence.

In 1992, 18-year-old Texan Lia McCord was looking forward to a bright future and had dreams of attending business school. But financial pressures meant that the A-grade student had to resort to modelling lingerie. One night, her best friend, Cindy, was propositioned by a customer in the strip club where she worked as a waitress. The stranger offered her a trip to Bangladesh and $10,000 cash payment in return for the safe delivery of a stash of diamonds. Aware that her friend was strapped for cash, Cindy passed on the offer to Lia.

The curious teen met with Cindy’s contact over lunch to learn more about the deal. Lia was shocked to hear that she would not be picking up jewels at all but heroin. Sensing her discomfort, the man increased the payment twofold. After serious consideration, the offer of $20,000 was too good for Lia to turn down.

Soon after making her decision, Lia was catapulted into the madness of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. But when she met with Tony, the dealer in charge of organising the delivery, Lia panicked. Tony’s violent and unhinged personality scared her and brought the grim reality of the situation to the fore. With her flight back to the States due to take off in a matter of hours, Lia was supposed to meet Tony in the lobby of her hotel.

Instead, she hatched a getaway plan that would allow her to board the plane home without going through with the deal. The fire escape provided a perfect exit route, but Lia took a wrong turn and came face to face with Tony. Realising what Lia was doing, the thug seized her passport and took her back to his lodgings. Lia had no choice but to allow herself to be fitted with seven pounds of pure heroin.

At Zia International Airport, the final boarding call for Lia’s flight was being made. As time ticked by, Lia rushed to the toilets to try to remove the drugs from her torso. But Tony had taped the stash too tightly and Lia was forced to go through customs or risk missing her passage home altogether. But luck was not on her side. All of the passengers were undergoing body checks and Lia was busted.

Taken in for questioning by police, Lia was assured release if she could lead authorities to the drug dealer. Tony was located and identified, but the police did not make good on their promise. Lia was convicted and thrown into prison. During her trial, the Bangladeshi authorities sought the maximum penalty of death by hanging. But as the judge believed she was only a novice smuggler, Lia got off more lightly –with a 30-year sentence.

Conditions in prison were basic and Lia could have easily sunk into a deep depression. However, she made the most of the dark experience, learning to speak Bengali and forming friendships with fellow inmates. After four years of incarceration, Lia’s plight came to the attention of Congressman Bill Richardson. In Bangladesh on a diplomatic mission, Richardson had experience working with nationals imprisoned abroad. With a new Bangladeshi president in office, the timing was right to negotiate a release. In July 1996, Lia McCord was granted a pardon and was free to return home to America.

The drama-documentary series that tells the gripping real-life stories of travellers detained overseas continues its new run. The second episode recounts the tale of Russell Thoresen, a young American who moved to Miami in search of a better life. After meeting and falling in love with a beautiful girl, he was conned into becoming a drug mule – and ended up alone in a Peruvian jail.

When naïve 20-year-old Russell Thoresen moved from small-town Tennessee to the Florida Keys, he thought he had found paradise – a laid-back world of sun, sand, sea and attractive women. He found a trailer to live in and a great job running boat trips for tourists, but things were about to change. Just a few months later, he was trapped in a world of cocaine smuggling, betrayal and intimidation.

Russell’s problems began when he met a beautiful 17-year-old redhead called Kim who needed a shoulder to cry on. After a whirlwind romance, Kim moved into the trailer and the pair became lovers, but there was a problem – Kim was a cocaine addict. The lovesick Russell vowed to help her quit the habit and spent an idyllic few months devoted to his new girlfriend. All was going well until Kim asked Russell to become a drug mule – seemingly out of the blue. She claimed that her contacts would pay them $13,000 each, plus a two-week expenses-paid holiday in exchange for smuggling three kilos of cocaine from the Peruvian capital, Lima, to Miami.

He initially refused, but eventually agreed to accompany Kim for her safety, on the condition that he would carry no drugs himself. Once in Lima, however, the drug gang suddenly announced that Kim was to fly alone three days earlier than scheduled – supposedly to protect Russell in case of complications.

On the day of Kim’s flight, the gang forced Russell to stay in his hotel room. That afternoon, the boss arrived looking angry and reported that Kim had boarded her plane and flown back to Miami before she could be strapped with the cocaine – and that Russell would now have to carry the drugs or be killed.

Despite his objections, Russell was intimidated into becoming the drug mule he said he would never be – and was soon being loaded with six kilos of cocaine and sent to the airport. After a nerve-racking couple of hours, Russell was about to board the plane back to the States, when a security guard caught him by accident.

Russell was arrested and sent to Peru’s notorious Callao prison, where conditions were appalling. He was alone, miles from home and surrounded by dangerous felons – but Russell’s worst moment was yet to come. After recounting his ordeal to Danny, a fellow American inmate and an experienced drug dealer, Russell was told that Kim, the girl he had fallen in love with, had been paid to lure him to Peru where he would be forced to smuggle drugs.

Would the Peruvian authorities ever believe that Russell had been tricked and threatened into committing his crime? Would he ever see Kim again? And had the girl he fell in love with really been working as a professional honey trap, or was she just another victim of the ruthless gang?

The drama-documentary series that tells the gripping real-life stories of travellers detained overseas returns for a new run. The first episode recounts the dramatic tale of Scott White, a young man whose party lifestyle in Kuwait of the late 1980s resulted in him being arrested for drug dealing. Sentenced to five years in jail, Scott’s eventual salvation arrived in the unlikely form of Saddam Hussein, whose invasion of Kuwait offered him the chance to make a daring escape.

In the late 1980s, Scott White was living in Kuwait City with his father, a wealthy doctor. Nineteenyear- old Scott was enjoying the best party lifestyle his father’s money could buy. He was part of a group of privileged ex-pats who ignored the Muslim laws of the land by installing bars in their bedrooms and brewing their own booze. Scott had a particular penchant for hashish, which his friend, Ali, would score for him from the Bedouin tribesmen out in the desert.

Scott seemingly had it all – a fast car, a gorgeous girlfriend and a great life. Then, one day, a new lad tried to become part of their scene. Talal was a Kuwaiti teenager, a ‘friend of a friend’, who nobody particularly liked as he used to flirt with their girlfriends. He wanted Scott to get him some hashish. Scott initially resisted, but Talal was so persistent that he gave in to get him off his back. It was to be the biggest mistake of Scott’s life.

Scott ordered 250g of the finest hashish from their Bedouin Arab supplier – the biggest chunk of hashish he had ever seen. It may have been his first ever deal, but Scott decided to try and make some extra cash by heating it up, flattening it out and cutting it in half. He slipped one half into the knickers drawer of his friend, Jenny, and with his partner in crime, ‘Slick Nick’, slipped away from one of their parties to pass the goods on to Talal.

The drop was nerve-wracking and Scott realised that the life of a drug dealer was maybe not for him. He was relieved to be back at the party – but that relief was short-lived. Talal appeared at the flat, followed by a squad of armed policemen who smashed down the door and arrested Scott and his friends. It was a moment that changed Scott’s life forever.

Scott and his pals were taken to a Kuwaiti police station where they were held for ten days. During that time Scott’s friend, Ali, was tortured until he revealed the identity of the Bedouin Arab, who was then brought in and also tortured. Scott was only spared the punishment because the police already had their man, and because he was British. Instead, they told him he could serve up to 25 years in prison.

Scott confessed to everything and was visited in jail by Talal, who had told him that he was forced to point the finger at him because he had been caught smoking. To this day, Scott does not know if this was the truth or if Talal was a police informer.

With his friends released, Scott was taken to Kuwait Central Prison to begin his sentence. While in jail, Scott was officially sentenced to five years but without the prospect of parole or time off for good behaviour. In his first year, he suffered a breakdown after his girlfriend, Lisa, ended their relationship. Fortunately for Scott, things took a dramatic turn for the better during his second year of incarceration – when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

During the confusion, Scott and his fellow cellmates were able to escape through a hole in the wall of the prison. After trekking through the desert he was picked up by a Sudanese family and made it through the Iraqi checkpoints. Reunited with his father in Kuwait City, the two of them fled through Saudi Arabia and made it back to the UK.

Nearly 20 years later, Scott runs his own business outside of London. He has two children and is married… to his former girlfriend, Lisa.

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