The mere though of being locked up abroad is quite possibly the greatest fear any traveler/backpacker may have while galavanting across the globe. The fact one is a foreigner, has limited legal rights and is potentially subjected to a legal system that is far more punitive than back home (regarding certain situation or crimes) is enough to send shivers down one’s spine.
When I was asked to watch National Geographic’s Locked Up Abroad upcoming episode entitled ‘Black Palace of Horrors’ I jumped at the opportunity. Having lived abroad for just under seven consecutive years I’ve both encountered and heard of second hand horror stories involving foreigners doing doltish activities and facing severe consequences for their actions.
The entire sequence of events from this episode had me on edge the entire time. Dwight Worker is busted in Mexico City for attempting to smuggle cocaine into America under the guise of a fake shoulder cast. Upon being busted by an agent his life spirals desperately out of control as he’s sent to the notorious Lecumberri Prison unaffectionately given the moniker ‘Black Prison’ of Mexico. To say his life suddenly became a living hell would be quite the understatement. Subjected to horrific abuse, psychiatric evaluation, attempted gang rape and a nearly fatal stabbing in the stomach, Dwight is determined to break out of jail or die trying. As a twist of fate, he ends up meeting Barbara Chilcoate, a visitor to the prison. They have an instant attraction to one another and immediately fall in love. Upon hatching one of the most audacious and daring prison break plans ever attempted, Dwight attempts to escape on his wedding day while dressed as a woman.
One can view this episode Locked Up Abroad: Black Palace of Horrors
Wednesday, May 23, at 10pm ET/PT
The episode left me pondering the fate of one Aussie bloke I met many moons ago:
Way back in 2004, before I had even graduated college, I ventured half way around the world to visit South Korea in what at the time was a trial run to determine whether or not I’d like to come teach here after university. I was shacked up in a tiny guest-house located in Hongdae – a popular university, arts and night-life district in Seoul. The guesthouse was littered with plenty of ‘interesting’ characters but none more fascinating than Robert.
Robert was a mid twenties something bloke from Australia that had come to Korea to teach English. His story was hardly exceptional aside from the fact he had not completed high school when a degree was required to teach English in the country legally. Having first made a pit-stop in Thailand, Robert being the cheeky/daring sort decided not only to get one fake degree but instead two. Armed with a fake BA from back home and a fake Fine Arts Masters from the University of Toronto, he had been teaching English in South Korea for several months illegally on a tourist visa.
Given that his vocabulary consisted mostly of f bombs, he had quite a difficult time maintaining a permanent position and had been bouncing around and drifting about from institute to institute for quite some time. Amazingly, up until this point in time he had no been caught by any immigration officials having made several renewals of his tourist visa by taking a ferry to Fukuoka, Japan and back.
The story intensifies as Robert attempts to rekindle a life he once had on the streets of Brisbane. Robert hatches the brilliant idea to start smuggling marijuana by mail via packets from Amsterdam. At this point in time, I had left the guest-house and had been in touch with another mate who was a permanent resident who kept me up to date with events.
Apparently Robert was doing a booming business selling ‘special’ brownies on the streets of Hongdae. In fact, things were going so well he didn’t even have to teach English any more.
I lost touch over time and never did find out what became of Robert. His daring ventures certainly had him living on the edge at the time. He could be living the life of his dreams by this point or he might ever be locked up in some far off corner of the world. It’s something I guess I’ll never know although if I ever saw him on National Geographic’s Locked Up Abroad I’d hardly be surprised.