This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
One hundred and twenty-four pounds of hash weighs about the same as your girlfriend and has a street value worth over $750,000. That's how much was concealed under Kapil Ghosh's car when he was stopped at the Syria-Turkey border in December 2009. The then 20-year-old was sentenced to nine years in a Turkish jail for smuggling. After 20 months he was repatriated to Britain and was released from Lewes Prison just before last Christmas.
There have been a number of high profile smuggling cases involving Brits making headlines recently. Melissa Reid, 20 and Michaella McCollum, 21 were convicted of smuggling $2.3 million worth of cocaine in Peru last year, while 58-year-old Lindsay Sandiford, who claims she was forced into smuggling cocaine by a gang, could face a firing squad in Bali as early as next month.
Kapil's case never made the national papers and he maintains his innocence, arguing that he was a decoy for a larger smuggling operation.
Having been arrested for drug smuggling, while inside he got caught up in the drug culture that pervades Turkish jail. He told me about living out his own real life Midnight Express, and spending his formative years locked up in a foreign country.
VICE: What was the Turkish prison like?
Kapil Ghosh: In comparison, English jail is a walk in the park. When I got repatriated to Wandsworth, which is a shit hole by English standards, I was happy—like, really happy.
The cells are basically like houses. Every one is different and you're sharing with 30 to 50 people, but they're big. There's a very big downstairs room with tables. We had two showers, two toilets, and a sink. A hole in the floor obviously—not a proper toilet. Then there's upstairs where the beds are, it's set out like a maze. There's a garden as well.
What was it like sharing with that many people?
Hard at first. The snoring as well—loads of them snored and they're not snoring at the same time either. Think of one person snoring, then think of 50 all in a different pattern. I used to take sleeping pills—I did a lot of coke out there—so to come off it and sleep we'd take pills.
So drugs were just available?
Yeah. At the small jail I first went to there was hash, as soon as I got there I could smell it and the screws were smoking it with us. But only because it was a small jail. When you get to the big jails you get the Gendarmerie [military police]. And they're hardcore—if they smell weed they'll strip the cells apart and every month they do proper strip-searches of the cell. But coke and heroin were available.
And you were just offered it openly?
A guy called Youseff took me under his wing, because he spoke English, and we became good friends. They were selling coke, him and his gang and, yeah, I just got on it. There was nothing else to do so we just got on it. It was maddening. Luckily they weren't heroin dealers. It was weird, but the thing is when you're younger you've got more balls. I wouldn't do this now. I can't believe how brave I was back then.
I took shitloads of beatings. The craziest thing was when there was a riot in our cell. The group I was with fought with another group. They're rivals on the outside. They've killed each others' friends, but somehow—I don't know if it's just coincidence—but they're in the same cell together.
What was the weirdest thing that happened when you were there?
So me and Youseff were sniffing coke quite early in the morning. Usually you could hear the screws coming, and we used to put the fridge in front of the peephole, so there was a chance to get rid of anything. But this time we didn't even hear the door open and this guard came in. He poured the coke out, didn't even rack it up or anything—I think he was really desperate or something, he just snorted it up. Then he took it and put it in his bag and then, as he walked off, he said something. I could understand a little bit, but I asked Youseff just to make sure. Youseff was really spaced out, he said, "if we speak, he'll come back and fuck us." We both looked at each other and creased up. We came to the conclusion that maybe he was a junkie and he heard us snorting because it was early morning.
Were there a lot of fights?
Oh yeah, I took shitloads of beatings. The craziest thing was when there was a riot in our cell. The group I was with fought with another group. They're rivals on the outside. They've killed each others' friends, but somehow—I dunno if it's just coincidence—but they're in the same cell together. One day I had an argument with someone and this guy was trying to get to me, he called the guys I was with "top," which means gay and in a Muslim country, that's a very big insult.
Everyone kicked off, it escalated, and everyone was fighting each other. Sometimes the screws will hear, sometimes they don't. Most of the time it's broken up, but this time it was a fucking big riot. I'd just been beaten the shit out of and there was a ringing in my ears, a really fucking loud ringing, and I noticed the Gendarmerie had come in and they were blowing their whistles. They come in and say, "Has there been a fight?" They want you to talk. I'm lying there facedown, covered in blood, and a screw comes over to me and says, "Has there been a fight?" and I was just like, "No, no." "Oyun" you say—which means "game." I'm laying there covered in blood saying it was a game.
There was only one stabbing. Because you've got the two groups doing everything, the coke and all that, if there's stabbings, the gendarmerie are gonna know someone's got stabbed—if he dies it's a problem. So they're gonna come in, search the cell, find a weapon, and find the coke and heroin. So a guy from our group stabbed someone and they actually made him own up to it—they threw him out. He obviously took extra punishment for it, I dunno how many years. I never heard from him again.
People think I'm crazy, I'm actually glad I went to jail.
What were the other people in for?
A lot of them were murderers actually, doing 35-year sentences. They made me toughen up a lot. I'd wander why my friend was calm all the time, and he said to me in Turkish, "patience." I had a nine-year sentence and would probably do six, but I couldn't bitch about that because that's nothing. All these guys were young, like 24, 25—my age now.
What did you think when you got nine years?
Do you know what? It was like weight off my shoulders. My mom even said I didn't seem worried when they told me I got nine years. I started writing, I got into a routine and that was perfect. The hard bit's waiting.
What happened when you got repatriated?
The Minister of Europe got involved and he got me repatriated very quickly. They just came and I was actually in a very good cell in Turkey. I was with a Scottish guy, and there were only eight in the cell. We all got on, there was hot water twice a week, good food, meat once a day. They came and said I was going to Istanbul jail and I was there six weeks. When they came it was sudden, I was happy to go but also really sad. I was relieved, but I was sad to see my friends go.
What was the food like?
OK, I'll give you the rundown. There was kidney beans and rice, split peas and rice, green beans and rice, chick peas and rice, black eyed peas and rice. When baked beans and rice came I'd jump for joy—that was my favorite meal.
Two meals a day, one for lunch, one in the evening, they give a loaf of bread to each prisoner in the morning and maybe olives or fruit. It was boring. I didn't know the importance of olives at the time, but if I'd known I would've eaten all of them. You could order salad from the canteen.
How do you think the experience has changed you?
My mentality is completely different now. I've grown up a lot, I've learnt loads of things. Positive thinking—positive energy. The main lesson I took away from jail is keeping positive, because when I feel positive, happy things come to me. I can get birds, job opportunities, everything. But when I'm negative, or I'm not feeling good about myself, shit comes to me.
I've got a work ethic now, I just want to earn dough now. Before, I'd just make money for tonight. Now I care more about my future. People think I'm crazy, I'm actually glad I went to jail. I know it's five years off my life, but I wouldn't have changed.
You said you did a lot of drugs in jail. Do you still do them?
To be honest, I still like coke, but I've not touched it since I've been out. I just can't do it anymore—the main thing is the morning factor. I've done gear on home leaves mate, but I've realized I don't want to do it, it sucks my energy.
What was the scariest thing that happened to you?
This happened in English jail, I felt most vulnerable. I was holding something for someone because he was sorting me out with a few bits. These guys who I thought he was with came and robbed him. They told me that he said they could have it and it put me in a big fucking situation. This gang have been trying to get this parcel but its been passed around and they finally clocked I've got it. I even had to ring my parents and say I'm in dough… they thought I was getting bullied and rang up the screws who came to the door and put me in a big situation—I don't want people to think I'm talking. Even my pals are thinking I'm a grass but they're not saying it. I'm looking over my shoulder everywhere and even when you were allowed to go out and socialize, I'd just sit in my cell because I wanted to see if there was trouble coming to my door. It was a horrible feeling. I had to ride it out for about two months.
Tell me about coming back to England.
Interpol came and got me from Turkey and took me to the airport. Then there were two very smartly dressed guys in suits and they were actually screws from Wandsworth. They cuffed me at the very end, but they were good guys. The plane food was nice. One of the screws gave me his chocolate dessert so I was quite grateful.
Since his release, Kapil has found a job in a call center and is writing a book about his time in prison.
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