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Authors: Kathryn Bonella

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BOOK: Hotel Kerobokan
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I hired a local guy, Agung, to come with me. Agung didn’t speak any English but had a motorbike and knew where I wanted to go. After getting off the boat I had to show my passport and papers at the first police checkpoint. Then I climbed on the back of Agung’s bike, and we rode up the bitumen along the edge of the water to the second police check point where I showed my passport and papers again to a bunch of police. Most were jovial and rifled through the bags of shopping I’d brought, holding up bars of chocolate or packets of cigarettes and pointing to themselves, illustrating they wanted them. I gave them a couple of packets of cigarettes. Then Agung and I tore off on the bike. We were usually alone on the road apart from the odd cow or a local walking his herd across the road. There is nothing on this island, accept a few local homes for workers and seven maximum-security jails stretched along its coastal road. Agung pointed as we passed Amrozi’s prison, then we passed several more, until we finally came to the jail that incarcerated the prisoners I was going to interview.

Once inside the men’s jail, one of the prisoners I interviewed gave me a tour; to the small shop, the gym, the Hindu temple where a priest was holding a service, and then the small Christian church. Standing at the back was a young good-looking Brazilian guy; charming and softly spoken. He asked where I came from in Australia. He had an aura of deep sadness about him and huge black circles under his eyes. He’d been crying all morning. He usually did. He was on death row. A few months earlier he’d set himself alight to end the slow, drawn-out torture. Like most of those around him, his life was just a waiting game for the twelve-man firing squad to squeeze its triggers.

Further north in Jakarta’s Cipinang jail I visited a prisoner many times. Austrian inmate Thomas Borsitzki was happy to talk about life in Kerobokan jail, making lists of more than fifty possible topics. Like many prisoners, he also wrote pages and pages for me about his experiences. Getting inside Cipinang was expensive for all visitors – by far the most costly of all the jails I visited. The guards charged Thomas 200,000 rupiah ($27) to bring him out, me 50,000 rupiah ($7) to sit with him in a room face to face, rather than through a glass and metal screen, and I paid a further 10,000 rupiah ($1.30) to other prisoners to collect Thomas. I also had to pay an additional 50,000 rupiah ($7) to another inmate who walked around with a ledger book, but did nothing else. So my twice-daily visits cost me close to $85 per day.

None of the prisoners asked for money to tell their stories. I took them food, toiletries and books, or some baby clothes for Thomas’s newborn – conceived while he and his wife were sharing a prison cell when they were both on remand for drug trafficking. I also took Thomas bottles of Dettol and bars of antiseptic soap for his gaping sores. After a few days, I’d notice his sores clearing up, but when I returned after a stint away, his body would be riddled with them again. Most of the prisoners were just happy to have a visit. One of the prisoners in Nusakambangan told me that hearing a genuine laugh was ‘better than sex’, as it was so rare – the death row inmates surrounding him didn’t have much to be joyful about.

Now I realise how precious pure laughter is, it’s amazing. Even a smile is very rare here. A laugh is priceless.

– Inmate

Another prisoner I met in an East Javanese jail had only had one other visit in two years. With nothing but time on her hands, she wrote pages and pages of notes for me about her life in Hotel K.

Several times I met up with a man who had just been released from jail after being incarcerated for hacking off a man’s head with a machete. I met his daughters and he came to my Bali apartment for lunch. Saidin was an intriguing person. He’d done several years in Hotel K and was keen to talk; enjoying telling his stories and explaining how he was feared in Hotel K by many prisoners and guards. When I asked the source of his power over them, he slashed a finger across his throat and laughed. He had been one of the most powerful prisoners in Hotel K, promoted to the top job of
– in charge of all prisoners.

Guards were also a source of information. Several times I went out for drinks or dinner with a high-ranking guard. He relished telling me jail stories; laughing as he talked about a group of guards fawning over and kissing one particularly pretty new transvestite inmate, even showing me photos of him on his phone, as well as photos of piles of drugs confiscated from the cells. On one of the nights I was out with the guard, he phoned a couple of prisoners on their mobile phones and handed his phone to me for a chat. This was indicative of how casually the guards colluded with prisoners.

Since starting
My Story
in 2005, I’ve spent hundreds of hours inside Hotel K. I’ve personally witnessed violence, drug deals and rampant sex. In a visit one day, I sat in a narrow passage opposite a couple and their newborn – undoubtedly conceived in Hotel K. He was holding the baby over his groin as a camouflage while his girlfriend masturbated him. The straw mats we sat on were often covered in semen stains. I’ve seen western men, often off their faces on drugs, sloppily kissing female visitors; one of the Bali Nine regularly entwined with his Indonesian fiancée, often obscenely, while his mum sat alongside them. And it wasn’t unusual to see girls straddling the laps of guys on the floor, thrusting back and forth. It looked like sex and it was.

Just as Hotel K holds a fascination to me, it clearly does for many others too. The jail is now a pit stop on Bali’s tourist trail. Taxi drivers are regularly asked to drive by the jail – just a little detour on the way to the beach or to a massage perhaps. Some tourists stand out the front taking photos. Others venture inside. Everyone from girls in micro minis to families with toddlers is among the endless stream of tourists who pay the 5000 rupiah (70 cent) fee – or more if they’re gullible – to go inside and meet one or two of the Bali Nine or Schapelle or just take a look around for a bit of holiday fun.

Hotel K might seem like a safe place to visit, because it’s Bali, and because it does regular PR stunts – pushing an image of a humane facility by flinging open its doors to cameras and journalists to show the likes of a tennis tournament, or prisoners doing choreographed exercise routines for Independence Day, or Schapelle Corby talking, in a slightly dazed state, about her hopes of opening a beauty salon in jail, giving a girl-next-door face to the jail. To the outside, it might not seem so dark, but the daily world of Hotel K is nothing like these flashes. It is a maximum-security jail, overcrowded with some of Indonesia’s worst psychopaths and sadistic criminals roaming freely. It’s a place that can numb a prisoner to their core and strip away their sanity by the things they continually see and endure. Three years ago in
My Story,
Schapelle described it as a soul-sucking dump and wrote this:

Right now, I’m empty, lost and numb. I used to have a clear fresh sparkle radiating within, showing through my laugh and my eyes, I never had a problem looking in the mirror, I knew who I was, I didn’t question myself. Lately now, two years on from that fatal date, and after repeated blows, I’m finding a confusing, distant reflection in the mirror; it’s dull, my eyes don’t seem to speak any more, they’re lifeless, as though my soul is drying up. Where have I gone, where am I going? I can feel I’m gradually losing the essence that makes me me. It’s strange and it hurts, indescribably, to become aware of your own fading soul reflected through your eyes each time you look in the mirror.

– Schapelle Corby,
My Story

Five years on, Schapelle’s soul has faded further. And her fragile grip on sanity regularly slips. Often she wanders around lost in a daze, heavily dosed up on medications for depression and psychosis. Her family is terrified she will die in Hotel K. She’s seen so many horrific things that she’s shut down. Finding a dead prisoner hanging by a noose one morning barely caused her to react. I saw her shortly afterwards, and she was totally calm. Her detachment was chilling. Life inside Hotel K has changed her indescribably. Almost all the westerners I have spoken to say the same thing; it’s a living nightmare that slowly eats away at you until the person you once were simply vanishes.

Hotel Kerobokan
gives a graphic insight into the daily life and shows why this prison is ‘a gradual killing-you process’ – as one prisoner described it. The walls of Hotel K talk through the prisoners’ stories of murders, suicides, escapes, bashings, vicious gangs, rampant sex and the prolific drugs.
Hotel Kerobokan
exposes the dark heart of the jail that breaks people down and slowly destroys their will to live.

It’s like the end of the world. It’s crazy. You feel dead when you’re breathing. You just want to get drunk to take your mind out of this place.

– Mick, Australian inmate

So many times I drive past those walls; I could never have imagined what happens inside. What happens inside goes far beyond my imagination before.

– Ruggiero, Brazilian inmate


It was late but Hotel Kerobokan was crawling with activity; guards skulking along pathways, unlocking cells and releasing prisoners who were walking fast across the jail. Tonight was sex night and Hotel K was busier than a Bangkok brothel. Any inmate who’d paid up that afternoon could get out for some action. Pouring in through the front door were hookers, girlfriends, wives and mistresses.

Austrian inmate Thomas Borsitzki was feeling frisky as he walked down the path towards the newly built and still empty Block K. He had gone two and a half years without sex, and tonight he was treating himself to a young Balinese woman. As he approached Room 1 in the cellblock, its small barred windows blazed with light, spotlighting the crude scene taking place inside. There was nothing but a thin, dirty mattress on the concrete floor. And a prisoner banging away at a hooker.

Already eight men were hanging around under the stars outside the block, waiting for their turn on the mattress.

The men, mostly westerners, would go into the cell one after the other; some spending five minutes in there, some a little longer. But if anyone took more than thirty minutes, the waiting prisoners would get angry and impatient, and urge the next in line to walk in and interrupt. In between clients, the hooker would put on a purple sarong. It was her one nod to decorum.

The Hotel K brothel was no more than a bare concrete cell. Inside, mosquitoes swarmed in clouds, attracted to the bright fluorescent light. It was hot. It stank of sex. Used condoms were discarded on the floor. The mattress was old, and the light made it possible to see the sticky wet spots left by those before. But it was jail. A comfortable bed, clean sheets and privacy were out-of-reach luxuries from a different life, a parallel universe. Here, it was a war of survival and different rules applied. Most of the men were either too high on drugs or too smashed on the local brew,
, to notice much anyway. They were horny. This was sex. Nothing else mattered.

But sex night wasn’t only for hookers. The grassy sports area near the small Christian church was also alive with the shifting shadows of couples having sex. Mosquito coils burned across the area like spot fires. Some prisoners would drag their mattresses out for comfort. One Italian inmate enjoyed sex with his fiancée on his mattress, and then left it out to rent to other inmates for a few thousand rupiah a turn.

Bringing in your own woman was cheaper than using a hooker. Prices fluctuated depending on how much an inmate could afford, but most paid the guards approximately 80,000 rupiah ($11) to be let out for sex under the stars with a woman they knew. A hooker, on the other hand, could cost an inmate up to 800,000 rupiah ($105).

Inmates would usually greet their lovers holding an unromantic sex package of two mosquito coils and a packet of cigarettes, which they would have just bought from a room in Cellblock B, where one prisoner ran a little shop from his cell. He put together the mosquito coils and cigarette packages for a set price so he could quickly slip them out the window on sex nights without completely waking up. Until sunrise, customers would continue to bang on the bars of his window to get their hands on one of the packages.

Thomas was a smack addict who usually spent all his money on drugs, but earlier this particular day, when a guard had come around with photos of a pretty young Balinese girl, he decided to splurge on a hooker. Now he stood waiting in line in the humid night air with the other men, chainsmoking Marlboro cigarettes and sometimes watching the sex show through the window.

Finally it was his turn. Once he was inside the cell, the hooker slipped off her purple sarong and let it fall in a crumpled heap on the floor in the corner. Thomas tore off his shorts and got down on the mattress. She lay back, only asking him not to do anal sex because she was sore from being forced to do it earlier. Thomas spent thirty minutes with the girl, despite being promised a few hours. But it was enough.

It was only a quick serve. I was promised all night, but it was not like I was promised. It was maybe thirty minutes before another guy came in. Anyway, if you don’t sleep with a woman in maybe two and a half years, half an hour is no problem

– Thomas

As Thomas walked back to his cell, several guards were still wandering around, calling out, ‘Like a lady? Like a lady?’, trying to drum up some last-minute business. Every customer was cash in their pockets. The guards’ cut from a busy night could easily match their monthly wages. And tonight, the sex action would go on until sunrise.

Welcome to Hotel Kerobokan.


People couldn’t imagine what is behind those walls at Kerobokan

– Ruggiero, Brazilian inmate

It’s a mental camp. In this place, you get worse, not better

– Mick, Australian inmate

BOOK: Hotel Kerobokan
6.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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