I recently ventured outside of the United States prison system for the very first time in this blog to talk about visiting Dartmoor Prison in the UK. That facility dated back to the early 19th century, and its history included an American connection. That centuries-old prison actually housed American prisoners of war from the War of 1812!
For this week's post, I thought I would continue this trend of learning about prisons that are located outside of the United States. Today, I'm going to be answering the question—can you visit the notorious Kerobokan Prison in Bali?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- Kerobokan Prison is known as 'Hotel K'
- What's it like on the inside of Kerobokan Prison?
- Voluntourism is a new trend at Kerobokan Prison
Kerobokan Prison is known as 'Hotel K'
The Kerobokan Penitentiary Institution—aka LP Kerobokan or Kerobokan Prison—is known colloquially as Hotel K. This is thanks, in part, to the book Hotel K: The Shocking Inside Story of Bali's Most Notorious Jail by Kathryn Bonella.
Described as, "an account of one of the world's most notorious drug-smuggler jails," this book gave insight into the notorious prison and why it's known as a "living hell."
“I was shocked, initially,” Bonella told The Irish Times. “Totally shocked. The first time I walked in, it was daunting. Definitely. The inmates were all mixed together, so you didn’t know who was a pedophile, who was a rapist, who was a drug trafficker. And the fact that killers would walk me out to help me hail a cab, or call a cab for me on their mobile phones—that kind of thing was mind-blowing at first.”
Located just a few minutes from tourist hotspot Canggu—a surfing mecca—on the Indonesian island of Bali, Hotel K opened in 1979 with the capacity to hold 300 inmates. However, as of 2017, the prison contains over 1,400 male and female inmates of various nationalities.
More than 90 percent of prisoners are Indonesian, with 78 percent convicted on drug charges.
Police chief Ruddi Setiawan told Australia's Mama Mia, “We advise tourists, locals, and foreigners to come here for a holiday. Don’t come to have a drug party or to use drugs. We will take firm action if any foreigners resist. We will not be lenient.”
What's it like on the inside of Kerobokan Prison?
In Bonella's book, she described the culture inside of Kerobokan Prison as extremely dark. She said that to visitors, Kerobokan can look like a cheap hotel. With prisoners spending hours a day roaming around the facility. She says some inmates pay to decorate their cells, and they bribe guards for certain privileges.
In one scene the author recounts: “Schapelle Corby barely reacted when she found a prisoner hanging by a noose. The Bali Nine’s (see more below) Scott Rush didn’t hesitate to help guards drag a body from the cell across the path from his cell; the dead inmate was covered in vomit and flies…”
Bonella also writes about murders inside the prison that were made to look like suicides. She also explores the corruption of a prison that only allocates $1 a day per prisoner.
She recounted stories of, “wild sex nights,” where men paid for sex workers to enter Kerobokan, and the prisoners would take turns, cheered on by guards who were pocketing a cut of the money.
“The men,” she writes, “share a squat toilet, usually blocked with feces and stinking out the cell. Poor locals will spend months locked in this cell without being let out once.”
Some inmates sleep on hard tiled or concrete floors in 100 degree heat, their limbs entangled with the limbs of strangers. As many as 40 to 50 inmates will sleep together in a room with blankets, pillows, and mosquito nets from charities.
As for the food, inmates get two pieces of old bread, two eggs, and a small amount of greens each day. They must rely on charities for real nourishment.
Bonella also claimed in her book that Kerobokan is riddled with drugs. But current inmates say that's no longer the case.
“No. At least not anymore,” one inmate says. “You know, people think this place is party central, but it’s anything but.”
Voluntourism is a new trend at Kerobokan Prison
While you can technically visit Kerobokan Prison if you are the family member of an inmate, there is a new travel trend that has emerged in recent years known as "voluntourism." Nearly 2 million people go on holidays every year with the goal of finding meaning and purpose in their travels.
From teaching English in India to building schools in Africa, the voluntourism trend has continued to grow, but it's taken a bizarre turn in Bali. That's because tourists are lining up at Kerobokan prison so they can spend time inside.
According to News Australia, the journey from Canggu to Kerobokan Prison is only four kilometers, but it takes nearly an hour by taxi to get there because of the island's "narrow, traffic-choked streets."
Visiting hours are from 9 a.m. to midday during the week, but as a rule, you must know someone being held at the facility in order to get past security.
You can't bring anything inside the facility—no phones, laptops, money, guns, drugs, or alcohol. Visitors must also be dressed appropriately, and all of the paperwork that visitors must complete to get inside is written in Indonesian.
If you can manage to make it inside, there still is no guarantee that the inmate you want to see will come to the visiting room if they don't know you.
Obviously, the big question people have is -- why would anyone want to get inside this prison? Especially if you don't know anyone on the inside.
Malcolm Kenzie, a tourist from Tasmania who was visiting a friend of a friend explained it this way.
“My brother was in jail for two years so I know how agonizing it can be for prisoners who feel they have no solid ground to stand on,” he told News Australia. “So, I came here to show them they haven’t been forgotten. If I were in their shoes, I would want someone to extend their hand to me.”
There's also an attraction to a group known as the Bali Nine. They were a group of Australians who were convicted for attempting to smuggle 18 pounds of heroin from Indonesia to Australia in 2005.
Ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were sentenced to death and executed in 2015. Six other members, Si Yi Chen, Michael Czugaj, Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen, Matthew Norman, Scott Rush and Martin Stephens, were sentenced to life with no possibility of parole. The Indonesian authorities reported in 2018 that Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen died of stomach cancer.
Another member of the group, Renae Lawrence, was sentenced to 20 years. But, she was released after her sentence was commuted in 2018.
Adrian is an Australian living in Bali and a member of IndonesiaAid. They are a charity that provides friendship and support to inmates at Hotel K. Adrian is quite critical of tourists who visit Hotel K just to try to get a visit with one of the members of the Bali Nine.
“Some people came to visit them for bragging rights, but after they were executed, the hordes disappeared. They weren’t interested in seeing other prisoners who don’t have celebrity status. From a Christian perspective, that’s a little disparaging.”
Do you want to visit Kerobokan Prison? Let us know in the comments below.
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