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.