Authors: Kathryn Bonella
Since studying journalism at RMIT in Melbourne, Kathryn Bonella has worked as a journalist in television and print. She moved to London eighteen months after graduating and spent several years freelancing for
as well as numerous English and American television programs, magazines and newspapers. She returned to Australia in 2000 to work as a full-time producer for
. She moved to Bali in 2005 to research and write Schapelle Corby’s autobiography,
Schapelle Corby – My Story
First published 2009 in Macmillan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
1 Market Street, Sydney
Copyright © Kathryn Bonella 2009
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
National Library of Australia
Hotel Kerobokan : the shocking inside story of Bali’s most
notorious jail / Kathryn Bonella.
Kerobokan Prison (Bali Island, Indonesia)
Prisoners—Indonesia—Bali Island—Social life and customs.
Convicts—Indonesia—Bali Island—Social life and customs.
Typeset in 12.5/16 pt Janson by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed by McPherson’s Printing Group
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These electronic editions published in 2009 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd 1 Market Street, Sydney 2000
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This book is dedicated to anyone travelling to the tropical paradise Bali.
Be careful. It could be a holiday you never forget. Even one ecstasy pill could cost you tens of thousands of dollars and a stint in the hellhole Hotel Kerobokan.
Because of the nature of the revelations contained in this book, some names had to be changed in order to protect former and current inmates from further prosecution or retribution.
The first time I went inside Kerobokan Jail was in December 2005 with Schapelle Corby’s sister, Mercedes. We were starting work on Schapelle’s book –
. As we walked past intimidating-looking guards and prisoners, I felt slightly uneasy. Out of the blue a prisoner sprinted past chasing another with a chair held above his head. Standing against a wall a few metres in front of me, wearing oversized pink sunglasses, was a girl who I thought was a visitor. I did a double take. It was Schapelle – immaculately groomed and looking like a fish out of water in a maximum-security jail. That morning we started our months of twice-daily interview sessions.
It didn’t take long for Kerobokan and its cast of characters to become very familiar. The guards were always keen for a packet of cigarettes, or asking me to bring in a copy of
; the prisoners, including a couple of murderers, asking for my phone number so they could get permission to get out of jail on a Saturday night by me ensuring their return. Things that at first seemed unbelievable fast became ordinary; like inmates acting as doormen and freely walking in and out of the jail.
Prisoners were usually loitering around during visits, drunk and stoned, and would come and sit with us. Like Schapelle, I quickly learned not to judge anyone by their crimes. One Indonesian inmate regularly came over to chat. I asked him what his crime was – ‘Killer’. He seemed nice. Not in the least bit threatening, although we later saw him poised with his hand in the air ready to bash another inmate, only stopping when he saw us watching. But he was chivalrous and became an ally. If he was returning to jail from a workout at the local gym as I was leaving, he’d hail me a cab or call for one on his mobile phone, then stand outside chatting with me until it arrived. One afternoon an Australian journalist was hanging about just outside the front door for hours, after a story had broken on the Bali Nine. I didn’t want to walk out and expose myself since the book was still a secret at that stage. Visiting time was finished, but the killer took me back inside to an office. We sat and talked, and every twenty minutes or so he’d go and take a look outside to see if the journalist had left. When the coast was clear, he rang a taxi and walked me out. Strangely, the killers were often the inmates with the most freedom.
Courteous killer doormen were only one of the reasons that Schapelle and I dubbed the jail Hotel Kerobokan in her book. With its tennis court, its manicured gardens, trimmed grass, Hindu temples and green sports area, the jail resembled a low-budget hotel – on first impression. Prisoners came around like hosts during visiting times, selling drinks and home-baked cakes, and handing out straw mats to sit on for 5000 rupiah (70 cents). The jail also sat on four hectares of prime real estate in Bali’s tourist precinct of Kuta, surrounded by exclusive hotels and villas. You could also buy services like in any hotel: you could pay guards to deliver pizza to your cell, to deliver drugs, to bring in alcohol, to arrange a hooker, and even to let you out for a day at the beach – although most of the high-profile prisoners, such as Schapelle, never got that luxury.
Like any hotel you could also pay for a room upgrade at check-in. After police scared Schapelle with stories of sexual attacks, she paid $100 to be put into a room that wasn’t too crowded or full of predatory lesbians. A guy from California gave the guards $950 for a room upgrade, overpaying and pushing up prices for subsequent male prisoners. But he’d been desperate to avoid time in the men’s initiation cells where up to twenty-five prisoners were jammed into a single cell. So it became ‘Hotel Kerobokan’ – where westerners from across the globe continually check-in and out, most desperately trying to pay the judges and prosecutors to deal their way to a shorter stay.
As a visitor, I got used to going into Hotel K, but still felt in need of a shower every time I left. I was fascinated with this crazy world of drugs, sex and gambling – where paedophiles, serial killers and rapists sleep alongside card sharks, petty thieves and unlucky tourists caught at a club with one or two ecstasy pills in their pocket. I was intrigued by what time in Hotel K did to people; how they coped with being locked in tiny, crowded cells for up to fifteen hours a day and what they did to fill the interminable hours. My interest in and access to prisoners sparked the idea to write
. I wanted to tell the story of this jail.
I flew to Indonesia in January 2008 and spent the next eighteen months talking to prisoners inside Hotel K, to former prisoners who are now in other jails across Indonesia and also to people who were free – although several of those are now back inside. It was an incredible adventure. I spoke to around one hundred people about life inside Hotel K, including murderers, drug bosses, petty thieves, gang members, international drug traffickers and prison guards.
To ensure the stories were as accurate as possible, I often asked several prisoners to tell me their version of the same story. Almost always, the versions tallied. The inmates didn’t need to embellish. The truth is graphic and shocking enough. There are specific tales that several westerners told unprompted; ones that resonated deeply and often painfully with them all; usually of westerners getting badly bashed, trying to escape or overdosing. They all knew that it could have so easily been them.
To establish the authenticity of the stories, I also spent weeks at the
newspaper office in its filthy archives rooms in Denpasar, going through hundreds of local
newspapers. In the dusty newspaper offices, my Balinese researcher and I struck gold; stories about the stories I’d been told, confirming the confidence I had in my prisoner sources.
Most of the people I approached were happy to talk and tell their tales. For those still locked up, it broke the monotony and gave them a fresh face to talk to. Often an interview with one prisoner led me to another. It took a while to track down some prisoners, who’d been transferred out of Hotel K to prisons in other parts of Indonesia. I then travelled for weeks at a time to jails in far-flung parts of Muslim-dominated Java, and to Jakarta, meeting up with former Hotel K prisoners, almost always taking in a digital recorder to record our chats. I talked to the main characters in this book at length over days, often returning for second and third series of interviews.
One of the jails I went to was on Nusakambangan Island, off the west coast of Java, where the Bali bombing terrorists were being held. The first time I went there was just before they were killed. The little harbour in Cilicap was filled with journalists watching for any sign of family members taking the wooden boat across to the island to say goodbye. I avoided the journalists and climbed into an old motor boat filled with jail visitors, motorbikes and prison wardens on the way to work. It took us about ten minutes to cross the water.