Up close with infamous drug smuggler

Australia's convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby.
Australia's convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby.

I recall the yellow stained walls that led to the muggy, crowded visiting yard and the clouds of cigarette smoke. Prisoners and relatives squeezed into the concrete yard, roughly half the size of a basketball court.

I was a teenager when Corby was found guilty of smuggling 4.2kg of marijuana into Bali in 2005 and like many, I was fascinated with her case.

This week she walked free from the prison to begin the next phase of her life ” on parole, with the condition that she resides in Indonesia.

In December 2008, long before I began working as a journalist, I travelled to Bali with friends and we decided to put together hampers for Corby, filled with toiletries, food, magazines and clothes.

Initially our group was refused visitation rights at Kerobokan. As we stood in the sweltering heat, I noticed an elderly man who had been looking in our direction for some time. He introduced himself as Lee Rush, father of the convicted Australian drug smuggler Scott Rush, who was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement with the Bali 9.

Mr Rush took down our names and emailed the Indonesian embassy to allow us visitation rights as ‘friends of Scott’s’ from Australia.

Two days later, we arrived back at Kerobokan where we were able to spend an hour-and-a-half with the prison’s most infamous Australian inmate.

Corby walked into the yard wearing a baggy blue T-shirt and her hair tied back. We spoke about the condition of her cell, which she shared with five other women, and the hate mail she had received from hundreds of people around the world.

Corby told us she was reluctant to spend time in the visiting areas because of the amount of inaccurate publicity that had been sold to media outlets.

Several weeks before our visit, it was reported that Corby’s sister Mercedes had been involved in a photo shoot worth millions and the profits would be used to renovate Corby’s cell.

Pointing to the rips in her T-shirt, she made a point that she was not living like a queen in Kerobokan.
For the most part, she maintained a smile but as she spoke about her hopes for freedom, her eyes filled with tears.

She showed us a bag of intricate beaded bracelets she had made to pass the time and to keep her mind busy. The bracelets she said were her way of making money on the inside to cash in for clean drinking water.

We spoke about her small garden outside her cell, in which she had planted chilies, pumpkins and sunflowers.

When a siren echoed across the yard I hugged her goodbye, feeling somewhat guilty I was returning to a five-star hotel while she was returning to her prison cell.

On Monday, Corby was granted parole from prison and is reported to be staying in a luxurious five-star resort in Seminyak.