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Money rules in Kerobokan

A series of interviews with an inmate and a former inmate have revealed that Kerobokan Penitentiary, Bali’s largest and most overcrowded prison, is arguably also the country’s most comfortable prison, at least for inmates with a lot of cash to spare and share.

Illegal levies are a common and accepted fact of life behind the bars of Kerobokan. An inmate must pay for a list of strange things, such as a Rp 20,000 (US$2.20) monthly fee in the women’s block for the right to use the clotheslines, and a Rp 100,000 fee for a guard to bring you 100 grams of drugs.

For a Rp 15,000 monthly fee, an inmate can carry around a cellular phone with him 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Those who cannot afford a cellular phone can rent one from the guards for Rp 10,000 per day. Do not worry about the signal jammer the authorities installed in 2008 to prevent inmates from running drug trading rings from inside the prison.

The high-tech device has been nullified by a wall of stones placed around it by the inmates.

Even love doesn’t come free of charge inside the prison. The women’s block is a highly restricted area and a male inmate who wants to see a female inmate for a romantic chat must fill out a form and pay Rp 10,000.

The guards will then escort him to the public visiting room, where he can meet his sweetheart and, if he is lucky, spend a short time alone with her. In the old days, these jailbirds could consummate their love in the toilet in the prison’s infirmary if both happened to be there on the pretense of being sick.

Naturally, money can also buy an inmate a better room, a better mattress and a continuous supply of delicious meals. To be moved from an overcrowded cell or block to a better one costs anywhere from
Rp 150,000 to Rp 1 million.

A large number of foreign inmates opted for this solution after spending several nights in an overcrowded cell. In the overcrowded prison, which was designed to house 300 inmates but currently houses more than 1,000 inmates, a better room and mattress can provide an inmate with a good sleep as opposed to a nightmarish one.

For inmates who don’t have any cash, Kerobokan can be hell. “It is very cramped,” a woman inmate said of her 24-square-meter room that she shares with 10 other inmates.

“The rich inmates have an easy life here; they can even enslave the guards to do their bidding,” she said.

Being a poor inmate, however, has its advantages. The gangs generally spare the poor inmates and focus
on the rich inmates, who are a lucrative market for their protection rackets.

“They usually target inmates who have a rich family. They demand money, or tell the inmate to ask for money from their family. If the inmates refuse, members of the gang will beat them up. Many foreign inmates have suffered this treatment. Usually, the inmates give in after the first beating. They have no choice if they want to be safe,” a former inmate said.

Currently, there are at least five gangs in Kerobokan, four of which are associated with feared local mass organizations at large outside of the prison, and one gang comprises inmates from East Nusa Tenggara.

These gangs also run a debt-collecting service for jailed drug dealers. Armed with sharpened eating utensils, their members often trigger violent conflicts inside the prison.

“Sometimes, their weapons are seized in security sweeps. But then, it’s easy to get them back. Just give the guards some money — they will bring them back,” he added.

Amid this atmosphere of discrimination and violence, it is understandable that many inmates want to get out of the prison as soon as they can. Yet, most cannot afford to do so as they have to pay a minimum of Rp 850,000 to have their parole application processed.

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