‘Hotel K’ is a breath taking account of ‘Hotel Kerobokan’, Bali’s most notorious prison. With unprecedented access, Kathryn Bonella reveals what is a filthy and disease ridden institution dominated by corruption, violence, drugs and sex. Although I will be exploring these themes my main focus will be that of the female experience in what can only be described as a destitute and debauched lockup.
Appearance is very far from reality inside ‘Hotel K’ with inmates being lulled into a false sense of security. The jail looks like a low budget Balinese hotel “Prisoners stretch out like cats under shady palm trees, reading or sleeping. Some play tennis or pray in the small Hindu temple… A laughing child runs across the lawns, flying a kite. Under a palm tree a couple kissing.” However, this illusion is abruptly shattered when inmates are forced into the ‘initiation cells’ described as “hot concrete boxes, each crammed so tightly, with up to twenty five men, that the prisoners are constantly touching elbows or knees. There’s not enough room for everyone to sit down at the same time; they sit and sleep in shifts. No one can stretch out unless they nab a spot near the door where they can scissor their legs through the bars.”
Overcrowded, the jail that was originally designed for 300 prisoners but is now home to over 1000 inmates. Some of whom have included celebrities such as Gordon Ramsey’s brother, royalty in the form of a Balinese King, Muslim terrorist bombers, drug lords, beautiful female tourists and surfers from the world over. Those convicted of small, petty crimes share cells with serious offenders including rapists, killers and hardened crime bosses. Unlucky tourists caught with one or two ecstasy tablets sleep next to experienced drug mules who have been caught moving copious amounts of heroin or even thousands of ecstasy pills.
Establishing rapport with inmates Bonella brings to light the prison’s drug making factory, murders made to look like suicides, escape attempts both successful and failed, the activities of corrupt guards and privileges granted to those with money to give. Illustrations range all the way from organised ‘sex nights’ to day trips out at the beach! When you bring cash bribes into the equation then anything is possible in ‘Hotel K’ as evidenced by the option of a luxury cell upgrade and the fully catered jail wedding!
In terms of the female experience Bonella reveals how women are “treated as second-class citizens, rarely allowed out of their block and banned from the privileges of playing tennis and walking freely around the jail.” With gender being a problem, Bonella also brings to light how guards not only try to extort money from the female inmates as well as sexual intercourse! Women frequently complained about being harassed for sex by the guards for what can only be described as basic amenities, also shorter sentences. Some women gave in to the relentless harassment and complied only to find that after carrying out the act their sentences remained unaltered!
Spending time in the women’s block Bonella explains how “the hole-in-the-ground toilets regularly blocked and overflowed, spewing sewage on the floor. Some locals would just squelch around in the faeces with bare feet.” In response to many complaints about cleanliness and hygiene the author goes on to explain how a number of the female prisoners were “peasants from tiny coffee or an apple. They’d lived primitive lives and knew nothing about villages serving a few months for crimes as trivial as stealing one sachet of underpants!” It was truly horrifying to learn of women becoming pregnant cleanliness… urinating and defecating on the bathroom floor; bleeding menstrual blood directly onto the cell floor, refusing to use pads or wear. Even more surprisingly, women being allowed to keep their infants, raising them inside of ‘Hotel K’. One baby being conceived through the bars of a cell door! inside the prison. Although, Bonella does explain how one mother sold her baby, only to try and get her daughter back some time later, not to keep but to try and sell again!
Sex playing a prevalent part in both the male inmates and the guards lives, Bonella explains how “Tonight was sex night and Hotel K was busier than a Bangkok brothel!” The ‘Hotel K’ facility was described as nothing more than “a bare concrete cell. Inside, mosquitoes swarmed in clouds, attracted to the bright fluorescent light. It was hot. It stank of sex. Used condoms were discarded on the floor. The mattress was old, and the light made it possible to see the sticky wet spots left by those before.” Meanwhile the guards walked around calling “Like a lady? Like a lady?, to try and drum up some last-minute business. “Pouring in through the door were, hookers, girlfriends, wives and mistresses.” One inmate explained how using a prostitute was a viable option and routinely used, although it was cheaper if you were in a relationship, just paying for your partner to be allowed inside. Those with money often used all three options available, having their wives and mistresses visit whist also using the services provided by prostitutes. Reiterating the point that pretty much anything is possible inside ‘Hotel K’ if you have money.
‘Hotel K’ is just a fascinating read and one that I would definitely recommend! Also, ‘Snowing in Bali’ another great piece from Kathryn Bonella. As always I would love to hear your thoughts on this article and so please do drop me a line. I would just love to hear from you.