Australian journalist Kathryn Bonella has just published another exposé on life behind bars at Indonesia’s notorious Kerobokan Prison. She spoke to Alison Grinter
Whatever your opinion on the guilt or innocence of Shapelle Corby – the young Australian woman sensationally convicted of drug smuggling in Indonesia six years ago – there are few people who would agree that she deserves to languish for the next 15 years in Bali’s infamous Kerobokan jail.
Journalist Kathryn Bonella, who has just published Hotel K, a shocking exposé of Kerobokan which reveals it to be a festering cauldron of drug abuse, sex scandals, violence and despair, believes the winds of change have arrived for Corby. ”Now, most Australians think she’s guilty but they think six years in that hell hole is enough, let her out … there is sympathy for her.”
When the former beauty therapy student was first arrested in Bali for trying to smuggle 4.2kg of cannabis into Bali in her boogie board bag, Bonella, then a producer for 60 Minutes, was one of the few journalists she agreed to speak to in order to profess her innocence and belief she had been set up. Their meeting led to Bonella moving to Bali to help Corby co-author her autobiography My Story.
Sex and drugs behind bars
If My Story wasn’t a shocking enough exposé of Indonesia’s corrupt judicial system, and the appalling conditions in which its prisoners are kept at Kerobokan, then Hotel K is likely to blow minds for its portraiture of sheer human depravity.
“Often you’d sit down and see people having sex all around you,” says Bonella, who has unsurprisingly been blacklisted from the jail. “You’d be in the visiting room seeing couples having full-on sex.”
Still, this is just the just the tip of the iceberg in an institution where sadistic guards triple their salaries by organising orgies, or the wealthier inmates can secure room upgrades as if they are in a hotel.
And yet, despite Bonella further revealing the corruption of Kerobokan in Hotel K, it was not her primary motivation for writing the book. ”A spotlight did need to be put that jail,” she explains. “It’s full of Westerners who are doing years for being caught for a few drugs … and they’re in there with serial killers, paedophiles, the Bali bombers – Indonesia’s worst criminals – and I guess I thought this needs to be exposed but also there were so many amazing stories.”
These stories include that of a jailyard ecstasy lab, Australian yachtsman Chris Packer’s filet mignon and wine evenings behind bars, and the Bali Nine’s Renee ‘The Playgirl’ Lawrence’s palatial bed where she entertains her favourite ladies.
‘I believe Schapelle’
For the record, Bonella is convinced of Corby’s innocence. Her decision is based on the fact that Corby flew out of Sydney on October 8, 2004, the same day a large haul of cocaine was shipped through the airport by a drug ring involving corrupt baggage handlers who were subsequently tried and convicted. “I don’t try to convince anyone of anything but my personal opinion is that she didn’t do it,” Bonella says.
She also believes that Corby did not get a fair trial, a belief borne out in My Story. “They’re not into evidence … For the second book I spoke to so many people, foreigners and locals – there’s not one of them who I met who wasn’t asked for money or didn’t pay money.”
If Corby is innocent it lends an almost unbearable level of poignancy to her current plight. In recent years she has been treated for depression and has lodged a plea for clemency, seeking to have her 20-year jail sentence reduced, changed or quashed.
Drugs are rife
”It [Kerobokan] is hell on earth, it’s no surprise to me that Shapelle’s gone nuts,” says Bonella, who stays in close contact
with Corby’s family.
“When I was doing the book with her in 2005, she used to come out in full make up seeming really normal, like meeting a girlfriend in a restaurant. I remember thinking how the hell can she have it together? I’d go back to my hotel and she’d go back to her cell with 15 people and they didn’t even have running water and with the humidity it was stinking hot. How people survive in there under those conditions I just don’t know.”
Actually, a lot of inmates turn to drugs which is probably the most obscene irony of this whole story.
As one inmate told Bonella of his captors: “They sell drugs like coffee in here.”
» Hotel K out now through Quercus. £12.99. See www.hotelkerobokan.com