How NOT to Get Locked Up Abroad

Posted by - May 19, 2012 | Category: Library

National Geographic Channel’s Locked Up Abroad

Locked Up Abroad (Banged Up Abroad) -- National Geographic Channel

I’ve been known to shake some shackles in my day. It’s even my tagline above – “Shake the Shackles. Escape through Travel.” But I’ve never actually spent any time in the clink. Well, hardly any.

My hard time was self-imposed, not court ordered. And it was served in a cubicle-shaped cell, not a real one.

But there are plenty of poor sods out there who have done a stint or two in the big house. And more than enough of those poor sods have been travellers.

And for some reason, that fascinates me.

So when the folks at the National Geographic Channel asked if I would preview an upcoming episode of Locked Up Abroad, and then write some tips on How NOT to Get Locked Up Abroad, well, I was all over it like an inmate on a cake file.

First off, I love the show, ever since it was called Banged Up Abroad. It’s addictive. It’s gritty. It’s suspenseful. And it leaves you thinking, What if that were me?

And also, Thank God it’s not.

Locked Up Abroad -- National Geographic Channel -- Dwight Worker -- Black Palace Photo

If you’re not familiar with Locked Up Abroad, it’s about people like you and me, except they’re behind bars in a foreign country. So maybe not so much like me. (I won’t presume to speak for you.)

Some have been kidnapped, some have “accidentally” swallowed condom after cocaine-filled condom, but they all face the same fate – dismal grey cells, some serious hard time, and an understandable fear of shower time.

The episode I previewed is called Black Palace of Horrors. Here’s the show synopsis from National Geographic Channel:

Only two people have ever escaped from Lecumberri Prison: the infamous “Black Palace” of Mexico. 

One was Pancho Villa. The other was Dwight Worker.

In December 1973, Dwight Worker is busted in Mexico City smuggling cocaine to America under a phony shoulder cast. When he’s sent to Lecumberri Prison, the notorious ‘Black Palace’ prison of Mexico, his life becomes a living hell. After fighting off a gang of rapists, a near fatal stabbing in the stomach and a stint in the psychiatric ward, he vows to get out or die trying. But there he meets Barbara Chilcoate, a visitor to the prison.  They fall in love and together execute one of the most audacious prison breaks ever made.  On his wedding day in prison, Dwight attempts to escape while dressed and made up as a woman.

Here’s a sneak-a-peek at the she-nanigans…

(If the video is not displaying above, you can click through to it at:

While I believe that only professionals should engage in cross-dressing, you have to hand it to Dwight. Life gave him lemons, and in turn, he made lamé.

And though I do think Dwight’s jail time was justified – he did attempt to smuggle a crap-load of coke northbound after all – his treatment in the Mexican penal system, the lack of a trial, and that whole attempted gang rape thing, make it easy to see why he was keen to escape.

The entire episode is a nail-biter (which I don’t recommend if you’re a gent apt to sporting nail polish on a Friday night).

So how do you avoid getting sent up the river in the first place? Here are my two cents…

How NOT to Get Locked Up Abroad

A Drug by Any Other Name…is Still a Drug

Tango & Cash is not a movie. Aunt Nora is not that annoying lady that pinches your cheeks at weddings. Hamburger Helper does not spice up your ground beef. And Somali Tea is not something you’d share with your grandma. At least, please don’t share it with my grandma.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, perhaps you need the Drug Slang Translator. It’s got the real name of every drug from Disco Biscuits to Scooby Snacks. (I think I just gave myself the munchies.)

The point here is be aware — something as innocuous sounding as pancakes and syrup (it’s a combination of glutethimide and codeine cough syrup) can spell serious trouble. Know what you’re ordering, transporting, or (God forbid) snorting. Or better yet, best just stick to water. (What’s that? Water is also the street name for PCP, GHP, meth, OR a mixture of marijuana and other substances within a cigar?)

Never mind.

Locked Up Abroad natgeotv

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

In every ‘wrongfully imprisoned’ movie or TV show, there’s always that one pivotal interrogation scene where the commandante (polizia, guerrilla, cafeteria lunch lady, etc.) beats our hero within an inch of his life, then presents him with an official looking document (aka confession) and forces him to sign it.

To sign or not to sign?

What would you do? Sign it, and get tossed in the slammer for the rest of your days? Or not sign it, and get tossed in the slammer for the rest of your days?

This one’s a right pickle.

My advice? Sign it.

But instead of your signature, write something whimsical like “I’m a little teapot short and stout.” Might as well go for the insanity defense straight out the gate.

What If That Fails?

If you have done your homework, shown due diligence, exhausted the insanity defence, and still find yourself on your way to prison, there is only one choice really. It’s illegal. It’s unethical, immoral, unthinkable. A thing so horribly ghastly that it’s much worse than any four-letter word. It’s a five-letter word.


Bribe like your life depended upon it. Because honestly, it probably does.

Watch Locked Up Abroad: Black Palace of Horrors
Wednesday, May 23, at 10pm ET/PT on
National Geographic Channel

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54 comments - add one
  1. A part of me is a bit freaked out that one day I will help a stranger and accidentally become his drug mule and end up in jail.

    Well if that ever happens, I’ll remember to sign myself as “teapot” and then try to bribe them….

    1. That’s one thing that I am really afraid too.
      There has been many issues of this these days and I feel sorry about those life who were sentenced to death though they are truly innocent.

  2. i have this irrational fear not only of committing some offense that I have no idea I’m committing but also that I’m going to cause some sort of international incident. i love that show b/c it appeals to my inner horror of it actually happening to me.

    1. I’ll be honest, I have an irrational fear of border guards. I always think they’re going to pin some trumped up charge on me. Probably why I love the show too — hints on how NOT to act around customs officials. 🙂

  3. I’m not familiar with that programme, but this is one of the funniest articles I’ve read in a long time.

    If one absolutely has to get locked up abroad, I’d suggest do it here. Norway has pretty nice prisons, more like dorms, really.

  4. The kidnappings featured on this show freak me out. The smuggling attempts make me wonder what goes through people’s heads to make them try something like that, especially now that I’m living in a place where possession with the intent to distribute carries a mandatory death sentence. An Australian expat was just arrested here with above the intent to distribute amount a few months ago. If he’s found guilty he’s not going to worry about being locked up for long.

  5. Damn, that’s some seriously terrifying shit. When someone offers me pancake and syrup, my general response is ‘Hell, yes.” I’d similarly probably not know any better if offered Scooby Snacks, but rather be so excited that I’d been offered Scooby Snacks.

  6. Yikes — that’s quite disturbing to think about how you might not know what you’re ordering. I think I’ll just go back to not thinking about it, because otherwise this will terrify me. Cool review, though. Don’t have NatGeo so can’t watch the show, but I have a feeling I would get addicted — and subsequently paranoid — too.

  7. I haven’t watched the show that much but I’ve seen it on TV. Those scenarios are really scary.

    As they say in the airports, do not accept items from strangers to carry in your bag or on board with you. I’m hoping that advice is enough to keep me from getting locked up!

    1. I once had a bus company employee plant a box under my seat as we were crossing through the border from Turkey into Syria. There was only one other person on the bus. And it was a double-decker bus. I wasn’t long changing seats.

  8. I’ve seen these previews on a few blogs and while I thought I didn’t have an official prison story, I actually do.

    In Liepaja, there is the Karosta prison which you can sleep in, an interesting alternative if you’re tired of hostels and surfing couches. It can be a part of a full experience where they wake you in the middle of the night and simulate the unpleasant prison experience.

    It was good as always to not fully understand the context of my situation as the chilling war and ghost stories I heard the following morning would have kept me up at night. As it was all I got was a night on a hardfloor as the lone cellmate of a former prison. I’ve also heard you can ask to voluntarily stay in prison cells in parts of the world to save on accommodation.

  9. My actual signature has been misread as “Santa Clause” more than once. Perhaps I can use the insanity plea to get me out of my employment contract.
    Looking forward to this episode.

  10. Highly recommend reading Marching Powder. Wonderful tale of getting locked up in Bolivian prison for trying to transport nose candy. One of my favorite reads.

  11. Further evidence of why I adore you and your site. Though I confess, I might have committed a few of these offenses in the past (NOT the drug one, at least). And I *still* haven’t seen an episode of this show!

  12. I think I was already scarred after seeing Broke Down Palace with Claire Danes – it made me afraid of SEA for a long long time…

    1. Thanks Jade! It is really addictive, and I like that it does give you a glimpse into living and working in a different culture. And of course, of spending some hard time there too. 🙂

  13. I never been heard this show but it is very important to all of us to hear. Thanks for sharing this and I really learn a lot of things to consider when you are in abroad.

  14. One guy I know got in trouble in Cuba. He crashed a car driving drunk with a Cuban girl in the passenger seat.

    The girl almost died. That guy was on house arrest in Cuba for 1 year.


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