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Authors: Kathryn Bonella

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BOOK: Hotel Kerobokan
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Every male prisoner knew about the great escape plan. They had all lived for weeks under threat of death if they leaked it. No one did. No one dared to disobey Tony. His reputation as a cold-blooded killer was a powerful deterrent. For months, Tony and the leaders of each of the other eight male cellblocks had been meeting to plan every detail of the escape. Every prisoner had to cooperate. All were instructed to save their daily ration of kerosene. They had been warned the death threat would still apply when the escape started. Any prisoner who failed to run would be killed. So everyone was running, even those with only days or weeks left to serve. Tony unlocked the front door with a set of stolen keys. The rest of the block leaders had iron bars to smash open locks. They didn’t have time to waste. They had to get out fast.

Still, there were a couple of jobs to be done. A designated team of inmates ran to the registration office with kerosene-doused rags. They lit them, then threw the flaming rags like firebombs into the offices to burn any paperwork, thereby eradicating prisoners’ records and wiping their criminal histories. Many also ran around vandalising, smashing the office doors and windows, enjoying their new sense of freedom. The yelling and banging by guards locked in the nearby office just added to the thrill. Another group of prisoners was in the kitchen, watching explosive fireworks as they set alight huge drums of kerosene to add to the mayhem.

One prisoner had been asked by Tony to do a special job: to get his girlfriend, Nita Ramos, out. He ran across to the women’s block, now completely engulfed in black smoke from the nearby kitchen and office fires, and opened it with the master key Tony had given him. He went inside, shouting, ‘Nita Ramos, Nita Ramos, which cell is Nita Ramos in?’ ‘She’s in Room 2,’ several women called back between hacking coughs, desperately hoping he’d been sent to save them. The prisoner found Nita’s cell, unlocked the door and then ran for his life out of there, ignoring the hysterical cries for help echoing behind him.

Nita was terrified. She flew into the bathroom in a panic, painfully bashing her nose on the edge of the door as she went. She crouched on the floor, curling her arms around her knees. She’d recognised the prisoner’s voice as someone’s who worked in the kitchen and who she sometimes chatted with. But she had no clue what he wanted or why he’d singled her out. ‘It was only me they were looking for, that’s why I was so scared.’

Within moments, sirens were blaring across the jail. Time was up. Any men still in the jail were now running for their lives. Prisoners were pouring out of the large side door used for delivery trucks and out of the main front door. The streets were frenetic. A long line of taxis, booked by prisoners on their mobile phones, stretched along the roadside. Prisoners were piling into them. Others were using their criminal instincts, hijacking passing cars and motorbikes, bashing people if necessary. Others simply ran away on foot. Fleeing inmates were everywhere – running for their freedom along the roads, leaping across open sewers, darting through traffic, jumping over fruit stands and dodging stray dogs.

It wasn’t long before police and journalists turned up. One policeman yelled out, ‘Freeze or I’ll shoot,’ to a group of five prisoners running barefoot across a paddy field behind Hotel K. The officer didn’t have a gun, but his threat still worked. The escapees instantly froze, and turned around with their hands up, aware how trigger-happy Bali police could be. The officer waved them over and the group obediently walked towards him, surrendering themselves.

I think it’s the funniest prison escape in the whole world. We saw people scramble. I was just watching the commotion. It was quite exciting

– Journalist Wayan Juniartha of the
Jakarta Post

With shields up and guns drawn, teams of police entered Hotel K, unsure what dangers would be lurking within. Small fires were still burning in many of the offices. Frantic screaming and banging was coming from inside one room. The police kicked in the door and discovered the fourteen angry guards. Further inside, they found twelve prisoners hiding in the garbage area; one covered in blood from a passing beating for not fleeing; the others still cowering in fear of being bashed or killed for not running with the pack. As the police went deeper into the jail, they saw it had been evacuated en masse. It looked like an abandoned village. Spot fires were burning across the jail and black smoke was billowing out through the cell windows.

The door to the women’s block was ajar. With their guns drawn, two dozen armed police stormed inside, struggling to see through the thick smoke. They rapidly did a check of the cells and found only Nita’s unlocked. Several police stood on high alert outside the cell door and window with their guns held ready to fire. Three officers entered with pistols. They encountered twelve quivering women huddling under blankets and pillows. No one had run. They were too scared to move. Nita’s cellmate, Gina, stayed crouched under her blanket, wailing, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening?’ as she caught a glimpse of the black leather boots walking past.

The three police walked between the women, calling ‘Nita Ramos, come out. Nita Ramos, come out!’ She was still hiding in the bathroom. They burst in, pointed their guns at her and screamed, ‘Get up, Ramos!’ They were local police, therefore knew who she was. Two of them grabbed Nita under the arms, jerking her to her feet, before dragging her outside the cell. In the smoky yard, they pointed their guns at Nita and shouted at her. ‘Your boyfriend run away. Your boyfriend escape.’ ‘I don’t know, he never told me,’ she sobbed. Being a
, they suspected she knew something. ‘Tomorrow is investigation, so prepare, Ramos. Security police will come to investigate you tomorrow!’ they warned. ‘Why me?’, she asked. ‘Because your room was open.’

The police then did a roll call to ensure all thirteen women were still in the cell, before fastening the padlock on their smoky cage. None of Block W’s fifty-three women had escaped. None had even known of the great escape. But all would soon be suffering its consequences.

Outside the jail, large numbers of police were setting up roadblocks, securing bus stations, and increasing surveillance at local harbours. The chief of police issued a ‘shoot on sight’ order if any inmates resisted arrest. Smarter escapees, such as Tony, were already safely miles away. But others who weren’t so bright were caught loitering in the local areas around the jail, hiding in backyard toilets or wandering around the streets. Several inmates were even caught sitting at local cafés, eating plates of nasi goreng.

If living near a maximum-security prison had always caused the locals a little dread, this outbreak was a terrifying ordeal for them. They were immediately warned by police and in radio alerts to lock their doors, be vigilant, and particularly wary of strangers who were ‘sweaty, barefoot and possessed no identity card’. But some still got hurt. One woman was bashed at home by a prisoner who was stealing her car. Several were pushed off their motorbikes as prisoners hijacked them. An expatriate living up the road from Hotel K discovered her dog drowned in her swimming pool. Presumably, it had been barking while a prisoner stole clothes from her washing line.

Police were doing door-to-door searches and raiding any houses where sightings of suspicious people had been reported. They caught four prisoners hiding in backyard toilets and another sitting on Kuta beach. By sunset, one hundred and four of the two hundred and eighty-nine escapees were back in custody. Fifty-nine of these had surrendered, claiming they’d run away only under threat of death. One Balinese prisoner had run straight home to his family compound, but asked his brother to phone the police to explain he’d be back in the morning after a shower and a meal. He kept his word.

Nita awoke the next morning with a dark bruise down the right side of her face from her clash with the bathroom door. Her world had darkened too. She was under a cloud of suspicion. She was bewildered and knew nothing. But she seemed overnight to have morphed into a dangerous criminal, guilty of harbouring a deadly secret. Armed police burst into her cell, snapped on handcuffs and marched her across the prison. They were taking no chances. Nita looked around Hotel K, and was shocked by the complete devastation, and by the smell of kerosene and smouldering mattresses still hanging heavily in the air.

The great escape was a major embarrassment. The police needed answers and were sure Nita held them. Returned prisoners had been freely blabbing that Tony was the leader, the mastermind, much braver now that he was gone. And with little chance of catching Tony, the police pressured his girlfriend for information. ‘Your boyfriend escaped, we know he’s your boyfriend.’ ‘I don’t know anything,’ she kept repeating. They didn’t swallow it. Her cell had been opened and they believed she’d been given something by the man who’d unlocked it. She was interrogated for five hours by six specialist police on a crisis mission from Jakarta. Her cell was also searched several times. They found nothing. But still they were unconvinced.

Every morning Nita went through the same humiliating procedure – being handcuffed and marched to the office to spend another five or six gruelling hours with yet another team of specialist officers from Jakarta hurling the same questions and insults at her. ‘I don’t know anything, I don’t know anything,’ she wailed for six days straight, until they finally gave up on her. The rest of the women were also suffering, cooped up in their cells, banned from visits, unable even to walk around the women’s block to stretch their legs.

During the next few weeks about two dozen more prisoners were recaptured, but only one hundred and thirty of the two hundred and eighty-nine were ever caught. Many of the recaptured prisoners were temporarily held at police stations and another local jail while the destroyed cellblocks were repaired. The anger and embarrassment had escalated, and returning escapees were now being beaten with rattan whips until they bled. Their open wounds were doused in water mixed with fresh chilli to exacerbate the pain, before they were put into isolation cells without food or water. Their remissions, or days cut from their sentence for good behaviour, were automatically cancelled. Hotel K tightened its security, building wire fences around every block, so that prisoners could no longer wander freely around the jail. It was a move to prevent another prisoner coup, after an investigation found the lack of fencing had been a major factor in the great escape’s success.

Nita would never see Tony again, though when his brother, Saidin, returned to jail about a year later, he organised a phone call between the former lovers. Tony was living as a fugitive in Malaysia. Relationships in jail were fickle, and Nita had swiftly moved on to a new lover; conveniently, another power player who she had a lot in common with. They would work together selling drugs.

289 inmates break out of Bali jail

Jakarta – A total 289 prisoners escaped from a jail in Indonesia’s resort island of Bali following a mass breakout, a report said here [on] Monday. The prisoners escaped from the Kerobokan Jail in southern Bali at about 5:00 pm Sunday after breaking the main gate. Fourteen jail wardens on guard at the time were outnumbered and unable to stop the prisoners, the
Jakarta Post Daily

Agence France-Presse
, 6 December 1999


For many months after the great escape, Hotel K’s security was tight. All inmates were kept in their cellblocks, only allowed out for visits or for an occasional ten minutes of sun if they slipped the right guard about 70,000 rupiah ($10). New fences had been built around each cellblock, the usually unmanned watchtowers were active and two additional inmates were designated as
in every block. Despite her former love affair with notorious great escape mastermind Tony, Nita was given the job as
in Block W. It gave her more freedom in Hotel K, freedom she’d soon use to deal drugs, utilise outside contacts and network within the jail.

Before being in Hotel K, Nita had been a drug trafficker, working Asia for three European bosses. She spent years jetting around, making good money, until the day her luck turned. That morning she kissed her four-year-old daughter goodbye in their apartment in the Philippines, unaware they would be separated for years, and drove to the airport with only a small travel bag. She breezed through immigration, completely free of any sense of dread, and boarded the plane as innocently as any other traveller, looking forward to having a drink. Her first stop was Singapore. That’s where the risks began.

But Nita was smart. She always took the standard precautions and was never blasé or arrogant. She was acutely aware that a wrong move could end with a noose around her neck or a bullet through her heart. But the risks were minimal on this trip, as she wasn’t carrying any drugs on the flight. The potentially deadly packages had been couriered ahead to a fake name. Nita held the matching fake ID. This system had worked perfectly on dozens of trips, with Nita simply alternating the fake IDs.

After her day’s work in Singapore, collecting and dropping off packages of drugs, Nita boarded another plane to Bali via Brunei and Jakarta, following the usual practice of travelling zigzagging routes to stay under the radar. At Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport, she grabbed a cab and went straight to the cargo office in Denpasar to pick up her package.

Using her fake ID, she then checked into a cheap Kuta hotel, chosen by her Belgian boss, and started repackaging the ten kilograms of drugs into two packets, wrapping them securely in black plastic, for two collections. At the arranged time there was a knock at the door. Nita walked across the room and called out ‘ice-cream’. A reply came back fast in a heavy French accent: ‘cone’. It was a password system Nita used to ensure she only opened the door to the right person. She undid the flimsy security chain and partly opened the door. A tall black man with a beard and moustache and a white man were waiting. Nita simply nodded before bending down to pick up the six-kilogram package of drugs she’d placed behind the door. The transaction was quick. Within a minute, the two men had vanished down the hallway with the drugs, their money already wired to Nita’s boss. Now it was time for Nita to get out fast; a life-preserving rule.

BOOK: Hotel Kerobokan
13.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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