Dwight Worker Escaped A Mexican Prison Dressed As A Woman (VIDEO)

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National Geographic Channel
National Geographic Channel

Dwight Worker was thrown into a Mexican prison because of drugs. He got out, however, because of drag.

Worker, an American, was arrested in Mexico City in 1973 after attempting to smuggle cocaine back to the United States, and was sentenced to five years at Lecumberri Prison for drug possession. The facility, known infamously as "The Black Palace of Mexico," is so tough that the only known escapee was Pancho Villa.

Worker beat the odds though, and two years later he escaped, not with a machine gun and bandolier, but with lipstick and a skirt.

The story of how he dragged himself out of a terrible situation by dressing in drag is the subject of an episode of "Locked Up Abroad," premiering May 23 on the National Geographic Channel.

Nearly 40 years later, he said the whole experience is still hard for him, even though he did 20 hours of interviews for the show.

"I cried uncontrollably after seeing the episode," Worker told The Huffington Post. "I didn't want to have a reaction, but I was tortured, electroshocked and stabbed four times while there."

The prison sentence might also have saved his life in some ways, however. Worker's plan to smuggle coke involved pretending he had suffered a shoulder injury and sneaking the drugs inside his cast. "I was 101 percent guilty," he said. "Had I succeeded, I would have done it again and again."

During his time behind bars, Worker admits having trouble with guards and fellow prisoners that he partially brought on himself. "I didn't know how not to fight back," he said. "There's so much degradation going on that it's impossible not to defend yourself."

But what seemed impossible -- escaping -- happened because of another improbable event: falling in love while in prison. Worker fell for Barbara White, a fellow American visiting a different prisoner at Lecumberri, and the two started planning a life together -- outside of prison.

Their plan required him to shave his face, wear a wig and makeup, dress in women's clothes smuggled in by White, and then sneak out using forged passes that made him seem like one of the prisoners' female visitors.

Not only did the plan have a high risk of failure, since he had to fool guards who saw him every day, but Worker said if he hadn't pulled off the escape, the consequences would have been dire.

"It's not illegal to escape from a prison in Mexico, unless you cause damage to the state or to a person," Worker said. "However, it was foolish, because if the guards had captured me, they would have ... how do I put this? Treated me as if I was a woman before killing me."

While Worker did trip a bit in the high heels, he was able to get out of the prison and catch a taxi to a predesignated meeting spot with White where he got out of his female garb. Worker caught a bus and train to the border in Tucson, Ariz., and finally back home to Indiana.

Although Mexican officials never asked for his extradition, he did suffer lasting effects from incarceration, including post-traumatic stress disorder. He married White, and they had a son before divorcing in 1988.

In the years since, Worker has worked for Amnesty International, and he hasn't let the experience sour his love of travel. In fact, he's now planning to bicycle across China.

But while the memories of the torture stick with him, there is one thing that he definitely left behind in Mexico. "That was the first, second and last time I will ever wear a dress," he said.

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