true crime

Rats, wild sex nights, and shared squat toilets. Inside Bali's Kerobokan prison.



Four kilometres from Canggu, known for its wholefood cafes and beachfront bars, lies a “living hell“.

A wall, covered in off-white chipped paint, is all that stands between idyllic Balinese beaches, which surf people travel halfway around the world for, and Kerobokan prison.

The complex, only ever designed to hold 300 prisoners, now houses over 1400 – more than quadruple its limit.

Some inmates sleep on hard tiled floors in 40 plus degree heat, their limbs entangled with the limbs of strangers.

On July 19, two Australian tourists, William Cabantog, 35, and David Van Iersel, 38, were allegedly found in possession of 1.12 grams of cocaine inside a Canggu nightclub, following a police raid.

Schapelle Corby speaks for the first time. Post continues after video. 

Video by Kyle and Jackie O

Urine samples determined that the Melbourne men had both used the substance.

The offence could be enough to sentence the two men to a maximum of 12 years imprisonment. If that happens, they’ll be sent to Kerobokan prison, referred to by locals as ‘Hotel K’.


Police chief Ruddi Setiawan said, “We advise tourists, locals and foreigners to come here for a holiday, don’t come to have a drugs party or to use drugs. We will take firm action if any foreigners resist. We will not be lenient.”

The majority of prisoners, 78 per cent, inside Kerobokan are on drug charges. Australia’s Schapelle Corby, who was convicted of smuggling 4.2 kilos of cannabis into Bali in May 2005, was sentenced to 20 years in Kerobokan prison. She would end up serving nine.


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4 years ago today I was released from Kerobokan prison. Bali Indonesia. 8.10.2004 – 10.2.2014. #whataFingnightmare ..

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The Bali Nine were also imprisoned in Kerobokan. In April 2015, two members, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, were executed by firing squad.

While 90 per cent of the prisoners are Indonesian, foreigners from all over the world have found themselves inside the four gratified walls of Kerobokan. In 2007, one such man was Ronnie Ramsay, the brother of British celebrity chef Gordan Ramsay.

The 39-year-old was found in possession of heroin, and was one of the subjects of Kathryn Bonella’s bestselling book Hotel K

Bonella spent time inside the prison, getting to know the rhythms and dynamics of daily life.

To a visitor, Kerobokan can look like a cheap hostel, with prisoners sometimes spending as much as 10 hours a day roaming around the premises. Some pay to decorate their cells, and bribe guards for certain privileges.

The reality – according to Bonella at least – is much darker.

In one scene she recounts: “Schapelle Corby barely reacted when she found a prisoner hanging by a noose. The Bali Nine’s 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 writes about murders made to look like suicides, and explores the corruption of a prison that only allocates $1 a day per prisoner.

She heard of ‘wild sex nights’, where men paid for sex workers to enter Kerobokan and the prisoners would take turns, cheered on by guards pocketing a cut of the money.

“The men,” she writes, “share a squat toilet, usually blocked with faeces and stinking out the cell. Poor locals will spend months locked in this cell without being let out once.”

Australian man Paul Conibeer has written about his own experience inside Kerobokan in a book titled, I Survived Kerobokan.

Conibeer says his wallet and phone was stolen while in Bali, and a dispute over an unpaid bill led to his arrest. He was charged and imprisoned for almost 12 months, alongside serial killers and paedophiles.

While inside Kerobokan, he witnessed murders and saw prisoners die of drug overdoses.

“The water is infected and you get rashes so you get sick every second week,” he wrote.

He slept on the floor among rats, cockroaches and ants, with no money to barter for food or water.

Thankfully for Conibeer, the chapter of his life spent in Kerobokan prison has ended.

But for Melbourne men Cabantog and Van Iersel, who were only this week charged with possession of an illicit substance, their time in Kerobokan might be just about to start.