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Authors: Kathryn Bonella

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BOOK: Hotel Kerobokan
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Austrian drug dealer Thomas slammed down the phone in his Balinese bungalow. It was bad news. His friend had just heard a news flash on his car radio that a Bangladeshi man had been busted at Bali’s Denpasar Airport with two kilograms of smack in his bag. Thomas snatched up the phone again, dialled his supplier in Bangkok, and got straight to the point.

‘Aptu Galang, is that our boy’s name?’

‘Yes.’

‘Bangladeshi?’ he asked, hoping like hell he wasn’t.

‘Yes.’

‘Shit,’ he cursed. ‘They’ve busted him at the airport.’

Time was now the enemy. The man in Bangkok had to move fast. He quickly, but calmly, walked out the front door of the Bangkok hotel and vanished, leaving behind only his fake ID.

In Bali, Thomas was safe … for now. He was still invisible. They’d played it by the book, everything done strictly on a need-to-know basis, keeping the links to the network unexposed, ensuring the Bangladeshi courier knew little. If the courier talked to police, which was likely, he could reveal nothing. He had no names. He only knew anonymous shadowy figures and a single contact point, the abandoned Bangkok hotel room, where several hours earlier he’d picked up the bags of smack and his plane ticket to Bali.

The boy’s ignorance was their insurance – the rules designed to protect the players. If he had successfully slipped through Bali customs, he would have checked into a cheap, random hotel in Kuta, phoned his Bangkok contact to give him the name of the hotel, and waited. The man in Bangkok would then phone Thomas, give him the details, and Thomas would collect the drugs and give the boy his $400 carrier fee.

It was a narrow escape. Thomas lost two kilograms of smack, but he’d been lucky. Even with the slick system, it was only his friend’s chance hearing of the news report that had saved him from a police sting. No doubt, police would have told Aptu to call his contact in Bangkok with the name of a hotel, setting a trap for the person collecting the drugs in Bali. Thomas would have been caught. But this time, Thomas’s call to abort the operation came first and ensured the boy’s call went unanswered, echoing around an empty Bangkok hotel room.

But as with any gambler, the close call didn’t stop Thomas. He accepted the risks. He gambled with his life and freedom every day, and knew it. Drugs were his business. Thomas felt the odds were on his side if the relay team running the drugs each took their turn with skill. But in this case, the Bangladeshi boy had lacked it. He was a 20-year-old kid who lost his nerve. He panicked. He red-flagged himself by walking through the diplomatic channel to try to avert a baggage search. It was a rookie mistake, as the skilfully packed bags of smack would have sailed easily through a routine baggage search. But the suspicion the boy aroused by taking the alternate route meant that his bags were torn apart.

This was 1991 – before the death sentence was used in drug cases in Indonesia. But the boy went down hard. Aptu Galang was sentenced to twenty years in jail, the justice system only going easy on those who could afford to pay cash to the authorities. The boy had no money. And his anonymous boss, Thomas, was unable to sling any cash to the courts without losing his invisibility and risk joining his boy in Hotel K.

Did I feel bad for him? Yeah, of course. This happened but I cannot do anything. I cannot go to the police station and help him. He also didn’t have money. If he had money, maybe he get ten years. But I cannot go to police station, I cannot go to court
.

– Thomas

The drug world was dog eat dog, as Thomas was about to find out. He would soon be busted himself and was destined to meet his courier, Aptu, in Hotel Kerobokan.

After three or four months, they catch me in Bali. So I meet the boy in jail. Actually, he didn’t know who I am and this was the first time I saw him also. I didn’t know who he is, but after people say the name ‘Aptu’, I realised – okay, he’s my boy. He realised I was the boss. It was no problem but sometimes he liked to drink and he would yell, ‘Thomas boss’, like that. I say, ‘Shut up, you don’t need to talk too much. Stupid’. He was not angry. He was nice with me
.

– Thomas

Thomas was busted one hot afternoon while lying on his couch watching television in his beach bungalow. It started with loud banging on his front door. As he stood up to get it, more than a dozen police kicked the door in and exploded through it. They were angrily yelling and pointing machine guns, swarming in and spreading throughout his bungalow. They tore it apart, opening cupboards, hurling stuff to the floor, flipping his bed and rifling through his drawers. Pinned against the wall by two officers, Thomas stood watching, acutely aware that he’d been lucky yet again.

If the police had turned up an hour earlier, he would have been sitting on the floor repackaging a delivery of one and a half kilograms of smack. But he’d finished and had taken his usual precaution of stashing it in a nearby locker, returning to his bungalow just minutes before the bust.

Having been tipped off by one of Thomas’s drug dealer competitors, the police were expecting to find kilograms of drugs. Grassing on him had been a dirty tactic to try to eradicate Thomas from the Bali smack market. But the police only found thirteen grams of heroin in the bungalow, tucked in the bottom of a bedroom cupboard. Thomas knew it was a small enough find for him to cut a deal and get off lightly.

He paid thirty million rupiah ($21,500) to the prosecutors via his lawyer and was sentenced to only eight months in jail. But during his stint in the police cells, Thomas was caught with a gram of heroin that his girlfriend had slipped to him during a visit to smoke later. So, the 25-year-old Austrian went down for a further eight months.

When Thomas checked into Hotel K in the early 1990s, it was a reptile and rat-infested swamp. He was escorted by a guard through the jail, past local prisoners slashing the grass with sickles, and was put inside a concrete cell, which he would share with a local prisoner. It was a basic cell with four concrete walls, a tiled floor, a single shit-covered squat toilet in the corner and a small barred window. Thomas noticed his cellmate had spread newspapers in the corner to create a makeshift bed, so unrolled his small camping mattress along the opposite wall. After two months of sleeping on a bare concrete floor in the police cells, that night’s conditions were relatively luxurious.

Hotel Kerobokan, Bali’s largest prison, was built quickly and cheaply in 1976, in the name of progress. It replaced a jail in Denpasar that had been torn down to make way for a large shopping mall. Shoddy workmanship meant that over the years, some perimeter walls in Hotel K would randomly crumble, giving inmates of the maximum-security prison an easy escape route. Although designed as a men’s jail, a small walled-off section was built inside to incarcerate up to thirty-nine women and children in ten small concrete cages. This would eventually be used only for women and transvestites.

The jail was filled to its three hundred and twenty inmate capacity when Thomas checked in, but within a few short years, after the drug boom in Bali in the late 1990s, it would become massively overcrowded. By then, with almost 1000 inmates consistently squeezed into the jail, both the women’s and men’s sections would come to house almost three times their official capacity.

But during Thomas’s first stretch, space was not so precious and he often even had a cell to himself. He spent his days sitting on his thin mattress and doing drug deals on his mobile phone. Despite his competitor’s tactic to get rid of him, Thomas easily kept dealing from inside. He’d call his supplier in Bangkok and organise smack deliveries to random cheap hotel rooms, then instruct his girlfriend to pick them up. She also regularly brought smack into Hotel K for Thomas to use and to sell to inmates, smuggling it in by inserting it inside her vagina. She and Thomas had a choreographed routine. During a visit she’d go to the toilet, extract the plastic-wrapped smack, and put it in the handle of a plastic saucepan used to flush the squat toilet. Thomas would then go in and retrieve the smack, sticking it up his arse to take it back to his cell without detection.

In later years, guards would be more pliable and complicit in the drug business, but they hadn’t yet worked out how lucrative drug running in and out of Hotel K could be for them.

One afternoon, Thomas’s toilet tag routine was spotted by Pak Belu, who was one of the more cruel guards, known for walking around the jail and randomly shocking prisoners with his electric stick, smirking as they jumped from the shock. He stopped Thomas on his way back to his cell, and asked for the drugs. ‘I don’t have, I don’t have,’ Thomas replied, leaping back after an electrical jab. Pak Belu put down his stick and started patting Thomas down. Thomas was wearing only a T-shirt, shorts and thongs, so Pak Belu quickly finished the search and was perplexed to find nothing.

But it wouldn’t be long before Thomas was caught and suffered his first Hotel K punishment.

It happened when he agreed to do a small favour for a local prisoner, Wayan. Smack was scarce and Wayan asked Thomas to buy some for him from Nigerian inmate Hurani, who hated the locals and refused to sell to them. Thomas did so. That would have been the end of it, but a huge Javanese inmate, Joko, doing time for a string of violent robberies, wanted revenge when he saw Wayan with the smack. He assumed Wayan had bought the smack from Balinese dealer Vassak – who had told Joko that morning he did not have any smack left to sell. Joko believed Vassak had lied to him and that he’d chosen to sell to Wayan and not to him. Upset and angry, Joko snatched the smack from Wayan’s hands, took it to the security boss and grassed on him.

Joko is angry and goes to the front office and says, ‘Okay, I got this stuff from Wayan’. But he didn’t know that I actually gave it to him. They call this guy [Wayan] to the boss’s office and they beat him, and after, they say, ‘Who did you get it from?’ He says, ‘I got it from Thomas’
.

– Thomas

Thomas was called to the office, instructed to remove his T-shirt, and viciously beaten. The second-in-charge of Hotel K, the security boss, hit Thomas’s legs and back over and over with a rattan stick, as several guards stood around the room watching. Thomas yelled out in agony, but knew fighting back would only prolong the beating. He was also outnumbered. Guards circled him, threw punches and kicked him. Pak Belu prodded him numerous times with his electric stick. Ignoring his screams, the guards persisted, using iron bars to hit him, until he was a broken heap on the floor.

The bashing of prisoners was common, with some particularly vicious guards relishing the job. The two guards Thomas most disliked were ‘Fisheyes’, so nicknamed by Thomas because of a deformity that caused protruding eyeballs – and Pak Belu.

Only for fun this Pak Belu would walk around with the electric stick, and put it into people, not strongly but a little bit. Maybe on the leg or something. He enjoyed doing that. It was a long stick, with a handle and some buttons, and in the front a blue light. He [could] turn it up and down
.

When they catch someone doing something and bring him to the boss’s office, they beat him with rattan, they give him electric shock, until sometimes people are pissing in their trousers and saying, ‘Please stop, please stop’. The visiting room was next to the office, and when people came to visit they could hear yelling, ‘Stop, stop’, and people got headache hearing that
.

– Thomas

After the beating, a badly bruised Thomas was locked in one of the four dark solitary confinement cells, dubbed ‘cell
tikus
’ or ‘rat cell’, used for punishing prisoners. For eleven days Thomas remained in cell
tikus
, sleeping in only his underpants with his fresh wounds exposed to the bare concrete. It was dark and grim. There was barely enough room to stretch out his legs and he had to excrete into a plastic bag. Only once in the eleven days did he get out, when a guard unlocked the door one night during a jail-wide cell search for anything contraband, like knives and sickles. It wasn’t to be Thomas’s last stint in cell
tikus
.

You adapt. You only sit, you smoke, you drink coffee, maybe you talk (through the vent) and after some time, the time is quickly passing. You only are hanging around. You cannot do much. You cannot wear clothes – only underwear. It was not allowed in cell
tikus
to wear long trousers; maybe they’re afraid you hang yourself or something like that. Anyway, you cannot use clothes. Not even a T-shirt
.

In the beginning, you get a little bit of skin coming off [from sleeping bare-skinned on the concrete floor] because you move around, but after some time you get strong. In the beginning, all the bones hurt. My skin started to go black where the bones are on the concrete
.

Did they tell you’d be there for eleven days?

No, you don’t know. That’s part of the torture. The first few days, the time is not passing. You have headache, thinking too much, but after some time you find a way. You could climb up to the small ventilation, not a window but a small vent, and talk to a friend outside. Maybe you want coffee or something. They can bring coffee for you
.

And also, at this time, I use still. So, everyday my friend comes and gives me heroin from behind, through the vent
.

How could you pay for it?

At this time, I still had money. Also, my girlfriend came every day and she brought food for me, and money. I was in cell
tikus
but she gave it to the guards, food, anything, the guards would bring it in
.

So, every day you had food and water?

Yeah
.

And you would shoot up every day?

Yeah
.

– Thomas

Thomas had been addicted to smack for a couple of years before entering Hotel K, and chain-smoked Marlboro cigarettes laced with heroin. But inside, he had to be more economical, so he started shooting up to use less for the same effect. Sometimes, if he was desperate for a hit, he shared needles with other inmates. Once, in sheer desperation he used a pen, fashioned as a syringe, to plunge smack into his veins.

BOOK: Hotel Kerobokan
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