Holidays In Hell!

Holidays In Hell!
Posted by FoM on August 16, 1999 at 06:55:29 PT
By Jonathan Foreman
Source: New York Post
ASK anyone who has looked into the matter, including those who made "Brokedown Palace," and it's obvious: You really don't want to serve time in a Third World jail. 
"Palace," which opened this weekend and stars Kate Beckinsale and Claire Danes as imprisoned Americans in Thailand, reinforces just how foolish it is to risk bringing back even a small package of illegal narcotics. It's not that American prisons are such pleasant places. It's just that doing hard time in a country where you don't speak the language and with your family and friends thousands of miles away adds a whole new dimension to the prison experience. Countries where drugs are easy to buy often have surprisingly strict drug smuggling laws. In Malaysia, for instance, you can get the death penalty for drug trafficking, and a handful of Australians and Britons have been executed there. Given that drug-producing nations are under pressure from the U.S. to crack down on the lucrative export trade, their officials are only too happy to get their hands on an American mule (as drug couriers are known). Nor can U.S. officials do much to help you once you've been taken into custody. That's the grim message of "Brokedown Palace," along with last year's "Return to Paradise" and the violent classic "Midnight Express." According to experts like Tony Wheeler, founder of the renowned Lonely Planet series of guidebooks, the films reflect reality. Wheeler, who has traveled the world for three decades and authored backpacker bibles like "South East Asia on a Shoestring," says those who get caught trying to sneak out drugs aren't usually experienced travelers. They may not realize that officials who look the other way if you buy drugs for local consumption aren't so easygoing when you try to take your stash out of the country. Jailed smugglers, says Wheeler, "are often on their first overseas trip. They're people who feel it's safe but then get themselves into trouble." Adam Fields agrees. The 42-year-old producer of "Brokedown Palace" spent months researching the plight of young Americans imprisoned overseas. His work was inspired by flyers begging for visitors posted in travelers' coffeehouses throughout Southeast Asia. Fields says that on his last trip to Thailand he interviewed 15 American girls doing life, "and I think they were all guilty. But they were guilty of being poor, desperate, naive, and foolish enough to be taken advantage of by [manipulative drug smugglers] like our Nick Parks." "Ten of the 15 girls out there were single moms. One of them was a girl from the South Bronx who had never even been to Manhattan. She told me she'd never even had a vacation." In countries that are the source of illegal drugs, like Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico, some corrupt law-enforcement officials have been known to plant drugs on unwary tourists. But often it is done to extort a bribe, and victims usually don't end up in prison. Many of those who get into trouble turn to Theodore Simon, a Philadelphia attorney known for representing jailed Americans around the world. (He defended Michael Fay, the American teen caned for vandalism in Singapore.) Simon makes use of the so-called prisoner exchange treaties that the U.S. has with many countries. These allow for citizens to be brought back to the U.S. to serve out their sentences in American prisons. Sometimes the American authorities will shorten foreign sentences, especially if the trial is deemed to be less than fair. "The more 'Third World' a country is, the more likely circumstances will develop that will be inconsistent with our notions of fairness and civility," Simon says. "It's why the first rule of going to such a country should be: 'Don't accept anything from anyone.' " Maria Rudensky, a spokesperson for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, says that there are between 2,700 and 3,000 Americans in prison in foreign countries, and one-third of them are charged with drug-related offenses. Most are in Mexico, where some 400 U.S. citizens are currently serving time. Next comes Germany, Canada, Japan and the U.K. Thailand is No. 6. "We demand to visit them," says Rudensky, "though in some countries we have trouble getting access. And we try to make sure that Americans are not tortured or mistreated or discriminated against for being an American." But they can't do much else if you end up in a foreign slammer. Perhaps the toughest jails are in Latin America, according to Frank Freisinger, a U.S. economist who specializes in the region. "Although Brasil comes close, Venezuelan prisons are supposed to be the worst in the world," he says. "They are horrifically violent with terrifying death rates. Dozens of people die regularly in massacres. It's Dante-esque." Pubdate: August 16, 1999 New York Post®,™
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