Locked Up Abroad

Yes, I watch a lot of criminal justice themed TV in my "vegging out" downtime on the couch.

One of the ones I;m loving right now is Locked Up Abroad on Nat Geo.

Here's the premise: Regular Joes (and Josies) , whether American, Canadian, British, whatever, get locked up in other countries. Hence, the name.

Most of them agreed to smuggle something. One time it was diamonds, but most of the time it's drugs.

Then they get caught. And go to jail. (Like I said, hence, the name.)

I was really hooked on the show when I started wondering what about it I found so compelling. I mean, I don't watch Cops, what makes this so different?

There are a few reasons.

First, most of the time, these aren't desperately poor people. That would be sad. Instead, they're middle class and at least somewhat educated. One woman I saw recently might have been "mildly desperate" because she had gotten caught up in owing money to a loan shark, but they never really gave any explanation about why she was using the loan shark to begin with. In other words, no one has had a really compelling "I couldn't afford my daughter's surgery and this was my only option" story. Mostly it's "Hey, I figured a free trip to Thailand/Peru/Colombia would be good, I'd make some money and get a tan, and what's the worst that could happen?"

In fact, one young British woman sold her business and used the money to go on a month-long holiday to Thailand. She enjoyed it so much, she stayed beyond her return ticket and ended up staying a few years as a beach bum. One year on Christmas, she was physically sick and homesick. She called her parents, decided she missed them but couldn't admit to them that she was homesick, so instead of asking for money for the return trip she agreed to smuggle drugs. Really? Just because you were too proud to ask your family to dip into their savings which you'd repay them when you got back? I'll admit that I don't know how credit works in other countries, but why not just ask them to open a credit card in your name, buy a ticket, and then you'll pay the card off when you get home? Because she was too proud. Bet she wasn't so proud in prison.

Another thing that makes it so compelling is how indignant these people are when they get caught. I just love when they say things like, "They treated me like an animal," with such disgust in their voice. Or whine, "They can't lock me up, I'm American. When is my embassy going to come get me?" One woman literally cried when the police woman who took a shirt out of her suitcase (the suitcase that was packed with heroin or whatever drug it was), held it up to herself, and asked if it looked good on her. She cried about that ("How could she? That was my shirt! She had no right!"). I loved it.

Third, I love how shocked they are about the sentences they receive. Some of them actually say things like, "I figured the worst that could happen was that they would take the drugs from me and send me home." Really? How dumb are you? That's like robbing a bank and saying, "I figured the worst that would happen is that they wouldn't let me keep the money and send me home." Again, I don't know what British drug laws are, but if you're an American, you have no excuse. If you're ignorant of the fact that Americans receive years in prison for possessing drugs here in their own country, or somehow expect better treatment when you're an intruder from another country committing the same offense, then your own ignorance has done you in.

Seriously? Who wouldn't google "drug sentences in Peru" or whatever country you're going to before you agree to do this? I know I would.

Finally, two gems I really loved: 1. The woman who got the death penalty in Thailand for smuggling. Don't worry, she wasn't executed. In fact, it was a real learning experience for her, and now she has a great career in law and journalism. It turned out to be a great career move. 2. The woman who dragged some innocent and unknowing guy into her scheme, only to have him face years in prison too. What a sweetheart.

Still, it's hard to say why I take so much pleasure in this. I guess it goes back to the fundamental question of "Must a defense attorney always side with every defendant?" Definitely not, in this instance, I really relish watching people, for the most part, get what they deserve.

The only episodes where I have had sympathy for the subjects are the episodes that don't deal with smuggling. The first episode I happened to see was an American who got arrested in Mexico for a police shooting, I had at least some sympathy for that guy. It wasn't like he walked into the situation looking to commit any crime. I didn't get to see the episode yet that involved journalists being captured and held in prison in Iraq, but I imagine I would have sympathy for that. But the smugglers I have very little sympathy for. Like I said, for the most part they don't seem to be in any truly desperate situation that warrants that type of risk.

If you aren't watching Locked Up Abroad, you've got to start. And if you don't get Nat Geo, you should at least check out the episodes that are available online.


  1. I've seen the ads for that one, but I can't bring myself to watch it. I think I would get so indignant at the people who have done something completely and absolutely illegal and then expect their governments to get them out of it. Crap like that just sends me RIGHT over the edge.
    "But I'm an American (or enter whatever else nationality)! They can't do this to me!!!" Ethnocentricity at it's finest!

  2. Cranky Amy, you should watch it! I love getting so pissed at these people... and then they go prison! It's great!

  3. For the record, the drugs laws in England are indeed much less severe than in the US. To give an example, the starting point for an offender convicted after a plea of not guilty to small-scale retail supply of a class B or C drug (e.g. cannabis, amphetamine) to consumers is from community service to six weeks in gaol (released after three): somewhat different to the situation your side of the pond, I believe.

  4. Locked Up Abroad IS so oddly easy to watch! Nat Geo did a show on the prison system in Georgia and it was sickeningly like a PR campaign for the DOC.

  5. The drug laws in the US are wrecking the lives of people as well but since most of them are poor and brown skinned respectable white Americans don't feel much empathy for them.

    Perhaps the fact that these people locked up in foreign countries are so similar to white middle class Americans makes the program on their plight watchable.

    In my opinion the kindest thing that one can say about the drug laws is that they are unnecessary. The harm done by the laws against drugs including cocaine and the opiates is far greater than would be that from the drugs themselves if they were freely and legally available. Prohibition laws may lower the total use of drugs but at the cost of increasing the harm done to those who do use them or traffic in them despite the laws.

    The US drug laws are bad enough but those of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are insane. All these countries have legal systems that make even the corrupt and rotten US system look relatively clean and I suspect that drug trafficking through them by powerful groups associated with the authorities goes on unimpeded while the drug traffickers each year sacrifice a few mules who have no knowledge of their operations so that the authorities can appear to be doing something about the "drug problem".

    The real problem is the fact that authoritarian people are incapable of adjusting to the fact that using mind altering substances is normal human behaviour.

  6. Wow. So you enjoy people "getting what they legally deserve?" If they legally deserved to be killed for drinking coffee, would you also enjoy that, you sadistic freak of nature? Get a brain. Or maybe you think they're somehow morally reprehensible for moving a plant across a landmass? If so, again, get a brain. You're the last lawyer I'd ever want.

  7. I agree 100% that drug laws need to be reformed. I'm not that familiar with the laws in every other country (e.g. the countries where the show takes place), but I agree that drug possession should be legalized in the U.S.

    But, as long as it's illegal, not only in the U.S. but in the country you're traveling to, then you're committing a crime when you break the law of that country.

    Each of the people on this show make a risk assessment, a cost benefit analysis, fully knowing that its illegal (whether they agree with the law or not). And then they act shocked and dismayed when they get locked up. I think that's the part that I love to hate.

    Look, if I went to the casino with my thousand dollars, and lost it playing blackjack, and then I went on TV and cried, "Oh poor me, how could this happen to me, please someone has to get me out of this situation, I can't believe this, why me?" You (or anyone who listens) has the right to say "Stop your crying, you knew what you were getting yourself into, nobody forced you into that casino."

    And, like I said, none of the smugglers on the show yet have been in some dire circumstance. If I went into the casino with my $1K because I only had $1K but my baby's surgery was going to cost $5K to keep her alive and I made the decision to try to make more money in the only way I could think of, and then came out crying because I lost the money, maybe you'd feel some sympathy for me.

    Anonymous asks, "If they legally deserved to be killed for drinking coffee..." Well, I guess that would depend on the state of the law and the person's response to be subjected to the law. If you walked into Starbucks one morning not knowing coffee had been outlawed the night before, and got arrested after you made your purchase, sure that's unfair.

    But if everyone knew drinking coffee was now illegal, and I dared you to drink a gallon, and you said, "What's in it for me?" And I said, "Well, if you get caught, you get the death penalty, and if you don't get caught, I'll give you $100," I would think you made a stupid decision to play russian roulette for a meager payday.

    And then if you cried, "Oh poor me, how could this happen to me, please there has to be some loophole, oh, woe is me," I would probably not have much sympathy for you at all.

    And as far as me being the last lawyer you'd ever want, there's a difference between a person's professional opinion and their personal opinion. That's why your doctor can tell you to quit smoking but then continue to smoke (or eat fatty foods, or any other unhealthy habit.) If you were my client, charged with smuggling drugs in some other country (besides the fact that I'm not able to practice in any other country), I would give you the best possible defense. But after you called me a sadistic freak of nature, I probably wouldn't like you too much on a personal level.

  8. i think maybe u r a little bit on the cruel side...while these ppl may have been truely stupid for their smuggling attempts...it doesnt necessarily mean they "got what they deserved"...these ppl were jailed yes, but in addition they were beaten up, not offered legal representation, lives threatened, never given a chance to inform family or someone they knew of their whereabouts or situation, etc....i mean what part of all this do u determine getting what one deserves for messing around with some drugs i mean its not like they killed, raped, kidnapped etc....at least in US, as messed up as justice is(like locking drug dealers up 4 many many years but letting murderers & child molestors out in just a few) at least we do have some rights....those ppl couldve lost their lives for something that in the big scheme of things was very insignifigant and minor...so yes these ppl did deserve a just punishment but nt what they actually got

  9. My comment is mostly to "Blonde Justice" I can't believe you said that you "love getting pissed at these people". And you love that they go to prison.For God sake WHY?

    These people were not criminals before or after this happened to them. The show is about shocking stories of survival
    from Prisoners in Foreign Lands. The horrible(inhumane) conditions they had to live for their mistakes.

    They didn't go on the show (National Geographic Chanel) to embarrass themselves or cause ANYMORE shame to their families.

    In almost every show you will hear them talk about depression. They mention ignorance, greed. They were young when they commited the crime.Obviously it was dumb and all of them felt invincible as most young people do.

    These people speak of remorse and a sense of guilty responsibility and a greater feeling of personal pain and anguish. They cry when they talk about the shame they caused their families

    The show isn't like "LOCK-UP" where you see REAL Criminals. Criminals who have No remorse or are without guilt in spite of wrongdoing. Uncompassionate to their victims. Their crimes are unspeakable

    The people you see on "Locked up Abroad" are nothing like Real Criminals and did not deserve such harsh punishment. Child molesters, murderers, rapist, Real Drug Dealers live in a kiddie Camp compared to this.............

  10. You Said it all..... Anonymous Anonymous said...

    "i think maybe u r a little bit on the cruel side...while these ppl may have been truly stupid for their smuggling attempts...it doesnt necessarily mean they "got what they deserved"...

    thank you, I totally agree with you. some people are way to judgmental. They should watch real criminals like on the show LOCK UP Now there are real criminals

  11. I saw my first episode a couple weeks ago, and I'm so addicted! I just love the show. While the act the most of these people are involved with is admittedly stupid and that I personally wouldn't ever be convinced to smuggling anything suspicious, the people involved for the most part are just people that had the wrong buttons pressed at inopportune times in their lives. For no reason does that make them criminals that deserved going in a situation of inhumane captivity. The real criminals are the ones who are getting these people are are taking advantage of these people for their shady endeavors. The emotions of greed and youthful ignorance that these future drug mules experience are emotions that all of us have/had experienced at one point. These people unfortunately picked the wrong avenue to exercise those emotions and paid for it.


  12. I love that show! I think most people just assume that they'll confiscate the drugs and let them go. It's amazing how much the sentences vary by location. I'm surprised that the locked up people don't try to bribe their way out.

  13. I adore watching this show as well: so fun to watch a bunch of beatnick cheap skate layabouts that don't want to work for money honestly break the laws of other countries and pay for it.

    As for all the pansies that whine that America's drug laws are skewed unfairly towards minorities and need to be reformed: spare me. I see way more white meth heads than people of color here on the West coast, and I feel absolutely no sympathy for them.

    Drug users are adults who make choices to poison their bodies with illegal substances that they hold more valuable than their health and the welfare of those around them, and if there were a way to lock them up for life at no cost to taxpayers, I would do so in a heartbeat.

    If drugs were legal they would still be expensive, as many users are chronic and have no jobs or means of income, and the associated enormous levels of theft from addicts would continue to be a problem.

    Go cops, sheriffs, patrolmen, and all other law enforcement: get these losers off our streets and thanks in advance for the hard work.

  14. FedupwitidiocricyMay 01, 2012 11:18 AM

    Hi! So glad someone else feels the same way about this program as I do! The majority of the people highlighted in the program chose to smuggle drugs for additional vacation time, unbelievable! Blonde Justice is not at all cruel, she's just being practical and realistic. I too have issues with beach bums who think they can get by in life by being lazy and stupid!
    Did anyone else notice how many of these clowns are from Australia? What is going on down under there? What a bunch of degenerates! I originally began watching the show because I wanted learn how people deal with circumstances like drugs being placed in ones suitcase unbeknown to unsuspecting travelers, but it appears as though the majority of these characters were well aware of the circumstances They put Themselves in! Thanks for the site!

  15. Responding late but I couldnt resist. I have to agree with Blond Justice. For the most part, these people got caught doing something that they knew they had no business doing. Something that would get them consequences in their own country. I dont take pleasure rather I am astounded at the arrogance. Because it wasnt their country, they decided that it was okay and that nothing would happen to them. And their indignation at being caught and complaints about their treatment is further testament to that arrogance. They only ones I felt sympathy for were the episodes where it was a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Although I have to wonder at the recklessness of these people going into places that are known war zones, however well meaning(like the couple rescuing children from Checnya) I still sympathize with what happened to them.