There have been so many books written by ex-inmates of the Bang Kwan jail (AKA Bangkok Hilton) that I began to feel there must have been writing classes included in the incarceration. Unfortunately, not all are well written.
Up comes what, on the surface, looked like Bali’s answer to the Bangkok Hilton, in a book called Hotel Kerobokan, written by Kathryn Bonella, a professional journalist/writer. As opposed to the majority of the Bangkok Hilton books, author Bonella can write.
Known as Hotel K, the Kerobokan jail is very different from the Bangkok Hilton. Whilst it is well known that the Thai penal system is corrupt, what is not so well known is the fact that the Indonesian Justice system is totally corrupt, all the way from the judges and on downwards to the lowest levels.
Author Bonella may be remembered for co-writing “No more tomorrow’s” the story of the young Australian beautician Schapelle Corby, and this book on Hotel K (ISBN 978-0-85738-269-6, Quercus 2012) is apparently a spin-off from her research for Corby’s book.
The book is based on interviews with some of the inmates and then Bonella’s observations. She backs up some of the interviews and observations with clippings from local newspapers, adding to the authenticity.
What really comes through loud and strong, is not the inhuman surroundings, but the complete corruption, where jail sentences depend upon how much is given to the judges, and living conditions depend upon how much is given to the prison controller and then the guards. With a system like that, you can see just how a convicted murderer can walk freely out of the prison, returning a couple of days later after sorting out his drug distribution network.
The blurb for the book includes the “Welcome to Hotel Kerobokan, the ironic name given to Bali’s most notorious jail by its inmates. It’s a bizarre nether world where murderers sleep alongside petty thieves, drug and alcohol addiction is rife, guards are corrupt and money talks. Into this hellhole have passed a procession of the infamous and the tragic: the Bali bombers, Gold Coast beautician Schapelle Corby, the Bali Nine and Chris Packer, among many others. The inmates grim experiences are at stark odds with the holiday paradise that exists just beyond Kerobokan’s dank concrete walls. Hotel Kerobokan is the shocking inside story of the jail and its inmates – famous, infamous and unknown. Kathryn Bonella spent a year in Bali, entering the jail every day to co-write Schapelle Corby’s bestselling 2006 autobiography. Simultaneously mesmerizing and stomach-turning, Hotel Kerobokan paints a confronting picture.”
Once again, the comparison with Bangkok’s “hotel” comes across with vivid reality. The Bangkok Hilton is filth and squalor and prisoners in chains. Hotel K, on the other hand, does have filth and squalor, but with some money into the right hands, you are living in a three star Bali resort, with regular sex partners being provided by the guards. Perhaps not the nicest boudoirs with a queue outside waiting for you to finish, but at least it is consensual.
At B. 435 it is a cheap read, though a trifle repetitive.