It’s a weird world in the hellhole that is Bali’s Kerobokan Prison – where vicious bashings, murders, rapes and overdoses co-exist with church services, romance, staged tennis games and bizarre publicity stunts.
Corruption is a constant. For Schapelle Corby, the Bali Nine and other inmates, money can buy almost anything except the most important thing of all – their precious freedom.
Life goes on as best it can within the prison walls. The jail canteen does a brisk trade in drugs. Prisoners get married or get high. Australian drug mule Martin Stephens has even paid guards to let his fiancee in for nights of passionate sex. But nothing can disguise the dark underbelly of a terrifying system where death and mayhem lurk around every dark corner.
Schapelle once found a fellow prisoner hanging by a noose. Other young Australians have been forced to drag diseased bodies out of filthy cells. Like Bali Nine inmate Scott Rush, a convicted Aussie drug trafficker who has lived in the shadow of the death penalty for the past three years. Helplessly, he watched on from the sidelines as Schapelle descended into madness, and he’s all too well aware that he could easily follow her.
‘I don’t blame her at all for having a mental breakdown or whatever the hell it is,’ Scott, 23, says. ‘It’s just a breakdown about the reality of where she lives and she has got to be strong to keep up the facade or shield, or something like that.
‘She’s probably also blaming herself a little bit for making her parents feel upset, for being here and not there. I know that’s definitely how I feel – guilty that I cause my family stress. ‘I would stress out if they were in this position. I would stress big time. It goes without saying, I do regret what I did.’Health fears
Scott’s family is certainly doing it tough. One of his two older brothers, Dean, 26, had a serious operation on a brain tumour earlier this year, but is now doing well. Then five months ago in July, Scott had a seizure in his cell after 5pm lockup. ‘I just blacked out,’ he says. ‘I don’t know what happened.’
His cellmate Michael Czugaj, who’s serving life for his part in the Bali Nine’s drug trafficking operation, called the Australian Consulate in Bali straight away. It took an hour for help to arrive. ‘And if you are wondering why he called the consulate, it’s because we don’t trust the guards. There is no trust between the guards and us,’ Scott explains.
‘I went for medical tests one week, two weeks later. They put electrical currents through my brain, or something like that, and they couldn’t find anything wrong. If it happens again they are going to try some type of medications on me.’
Schapelle poses with fellow inmate Andrew
Chan, who received the death penalty
Only 50 cents per year is allocated for the medical needs of each prisoner. Schapelle’s family is forced to pay vast sums of money for her psychiatric care as well as the anti-psychotic and anti-depressive medicines she so desperately needs.
The mystery of Scott’s seizure remains, but he believes it was caused by the stress of such a bizarre and frightening prison world where he is always looking over his shoulder. Daily life in ‘Hotel Kerobokan’ is harsh. There is massive overcrowding since the jail was originally built for 320 inmates, but it now houses between 900 and 1000 prisoners.
Some of the putrid, rat-infested cells are so full, inmates sleep sitting up or with their legs scissored through the bars, in a desperate attempt to avoid the raw sewage spewing out of the blocked or broken toilets in each cell.
Death and danger
Worse still, there is no segregation between the most dangerous psychopaths, serial killers or paedophiles and the rest of Kerobokan’s population. ‘I’m definitely worried for my safety,’ Scott says. ‘You never know. I’ve never been attacked, but of course attacks have happened, and there have been pretty brutal ones as well.’
Last year he was forced to help guards drag the corpse of a prisoner from ‘cell tikus’: a punishment or ‘rat’ cell. The man had died of tuberculosis (TB). Once Scott spent an entire month locked up in the tiny, dark rat cell, which is not much wider than a coffin, with another man. Both of them had to use plastic bags as a substitute for a toilet.
Occasionally, when he could bribe the guards, they let him out of the rat cell for short visits. ‘The second time I went to hospital my family was here, so we got to have lunch. We should have paid to go to the beach that day too,’ Scott says.
In Kerobokan cash buys almost anything. Many Westerners pay guards for permission to spruce up their cells, but money can’t provide hygiene. Snakes, rats and feral cats slip freely through the bars. The prison is also full of drug addicts who share needles, creating a toxic environment in which HIV, hepatitis and TB are rife.
But at the same time, inmates conduct love affairs, get married, gamble and hang out with their mates. One Italian, Juri Angione, even staged a big white wedding behind the razor wire. His suit and the bride’s flowing silk dress were designed and cut in Italy, his family flew in from Europe and 100 guests – which included Schapelle and the Bali Nine – attended the ceremony.
On the big day the best man – an ecstasy dealer – was so high he couldn’t find the ring, and two inmates were caught by guards having sex in the church toilet.
But that’s typical of the crazy world of Kerobokan. Prisoners drink or take drugs – and guards regularly join in, sitting in the cells, smoking ice, or just taking cash to turn a blind eye.
Convicts often continue with their crimes inside, dealing drugs or gambling, which are both illegal in Indonesia. Several guards have even been convicted of drug dealing at the jail, including its No. 2 boss. But authorities like to push the image of Kerobokan as a rehabilitation facility. In regular PR stunts, such as a prisoner tennis match, the doors are flung open to the world.
After his tennis match, Scott was ordered by guards to conduct a positive press conference. Looking more like a tennis star than a death row inmate, he reluctantly painted a brighter picture of life behind bars.
And Schapelle has also been forced to participate and give a positive message about jail. Just days before she slashed her wrists, she was filmed talking optimistically about her hopes of opening a beauty salon in prison. The contradictions are simply overwhelming.
For other long-term prisoners there seems no end to this hell. But for Scott, the absolute end could be any time soon – unless he wins his last-ditch appeal against his death sentence later on this month. ‘I don’t think whether I’m going to get off or not. I just think about dealing with what’s happening right now,’ Scott says.
‘And if I’m going to get shot, I guess it will happen at a time when I’m not ready. Like there were two guys who got shot last year. They just pulled them out of their cells for no reason and shot ’em, when they weren’t even ready,’ Scott recalls.
‘I’ve had a lot of time to think,’ he adds. ‘Now I feel that I’ve grown wiser, more knowledgeable about myself. My head’s a lot clearer, I don’t so much meditate as put my mind on other things. Escape in a book or something like that. At the moment, I’m reading Stephen King.’
A worse fate
Scott doesn’t want to die. But chillingly he admits that the prospect of life in Kerobokan is worse than the fear of death. He says: ‘Sometimes I think I would rather get shot than spend the rest of my life in here.’
• Hotel Kerobokan: The Shocking Inside Story Of Bali’s Most Notorious Jail by Kathryn Bonella (Pan Macmillan $34.99). For more information, visit www.kathrynbonella.com