Tonight on National Geographic’s Locked Up Abroad, Heather Ebling’s story will be told. The single mother spent time in a Colombian prison after being arrested for having heroin in her bag at a Colombian airport.
Locked Up Abroad tells the story of travelers who have been locked up in foreign prisons, usually for drug smuggling. Ebling’s story is much like the others that have been told.
Before her arrest, Ebling worked in customer service at a bank in the United States, and she spent her time not at work caring for her son, who was a toddler at the time.
Read on to learn more about Ebling’s story.
Ebling Was on Vacation in Colombia When She Was Arrested
Ebling was on vacation with friends, but she was on her way to get home when disaster struck. She was feeling ill on the car ride on the way to the airport, and she needed to abandon her bags with her friend Danny as soon as they got where they were going in order to find a bathroom.
She said she was in the bathroom for 20 to 25 minutes before she felt well enough to leave. Their suitcases were sitting right next to the security line, and Ebling’s luggage was selected to be searched.
After being arrested, she was held in a holding cell in Colombia. There, she was visited by Americans from the embassy who gave her information about how to speak Spanish but not much else, saying they couldn’t really help her much.
“They kind of told me I was on my own,” she said in Locked Up Abroad. “They told me what I needed to say to tell them that I needed to go to the bathroom and that I was hungry.”
She said they also called her mother to tell her that Ebling was in prison in Colombia.
Ebling’s first day at the prison was her 25th birthday.
Ebling Was Interviewed While in Prison in 2007
The Los Angeles Times interviewed Ebling along with two other inmates serving time in a maximum-security Colombian prison. The prison housed criminals who had been convicted of murder and other heinous crimes.
Together, the three American inmates were referred to as “Las Gringas” by their fellow inmates.
Ebling said she was bullied into pleading guilty in her drug smuggling case and that she had no idea her traveling companion had a cocaine-packed suitcase.
The judge threatened to double her sentence to eight years if she didn’t plead guilty, so Ebling did what she thought was best and entered the guilty plea.
Ebling was sentenced to four years in prison. There, she shared a cell with then 25-year-old Marla David, who was also a mother and who lived only 30 minutes from Ebling back home in Pennsylvania. The walls of their cell was blue with rainbows on the ceilings. They were able to keep pictures of their children on the walls.
Ebling and David both kept diaries while in prison; David’s was written to give to her daughter some day in the future.
Ebling completed her prison sentence in 2010.
Locked Up Abroad airs tonight, Feb 19, 2020 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on National Geographic.