I think not. Despite the fact that this hotel is located in the paradisical beach resort of Bali, the name Hotel K is actually a sarcastic take on the tourist culture that governs Bali, and this place is in reality a notorious jail, the Kerobahkan Jail, located in Bali, which gained notoriety when Schapelle Corby, a 27 year old beauty school student from Australia was arrested for possession of contraband and sentenced to 20 years in Hotel K. The author began her visits to Hotel K to co-write with Shapelle her book, “My Story”, and the story of Hotel K began to emerge through the visits to the prison, it being, like any prison in a third world country full of prisoners crammed into cells beyond their capacity, deplorable living conditions.
The author tells us the back stories of some of the more interesting inmates, the crimes that got them the sentences which had them here in Hotel K and their role in the prison ecosystem which is governed by a blend of those with power, notoriety or money. We see how inmates with money have access to all the material comforts possible, with drug trades being conducted from the premises, prostitutes available for the inmates who can pay, and a narration of a daring jail break, organised by a few inmates. What is amazing is that the author had access to so many inmates, and got so many stories and in such amazing detail. The microcosm of the jail environment is detailed so terrifyingly that reading it would put anyone off visiting the tourist destination based on the mere what if. People caught with recreational drugs incarcerated with serial killers, contract killers, paedophiles, terrorists who masterminded the Bali bombings, drug runners, crime lords and worse.
This is clearly a book that is meant to shock, and so it does, without additional embellishment, just with the sheer drama going on within the prison. The ultimate irony, for all the strict drug laws which got many of the tourists in Hotel K in the first place, drugs are rampantly available in Hotel K and drug networks are run out of Hotel K. An explosive book, with photographs to show the reader the faces behind the stories.
Having heard the stories and seen the pictures though, if it wasn’t for the back stories, I would say Hotel K seems visually a million times better than the jails we are familiar with here. If Bonella wants to experience real hell holes, maybe she needs to see some more jails. Hotel K, from the pictures though, seemed just like its nickname. A hotel. A down market, cheap, squalid hotel albeit, but not a place that inspires any kind of terror.
As for me, I’m never going to Bali if I can help it. And if I do, I’m carrying handluggage no one can slip stuff into.
The Shocking Inside Story of Bali’s Most Notorious Jail
By Kathryn Bonella
Quercus Non Fiction
(Distributed in India by Penguin)