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Man goes from holiday, to Bali prison, to Hervey Bay

Paul Conibeer with his book on the time he spent in Bali's Kerobokan Prison.
Paul Conibeer with his book on the time he spent in Bali's Kerobokan Prison. Alistair Brightman

HE SPENT months inside Bali's notorious Kerobokan prison, but the former inmate, who lived alongside some of Australia's most famous international criminals, is now rebuilding his life in Hervey Bay.

During his ordeal Paul Conibeer saw people stabbed to death, others die of drug overdoses and a community with rampant mental health issues.

The 45-year-old was thrown into jail in August 2012 after losing his wallet and mobile phone while on holiday and not being able to pay his hotel bill at check-out.

After being escorted to the Kuta police station by hotel staff, Mr Conibeer said he was handcuffed and taken into custody where he refused to comply with mounting bribery requests after prices continued to rise.

"I didn't believe the money would go to the hotel at the end of the day," he said

"Once they had me in prison, all they could see were dollar signs."

With his hotel debt still unpaid and no help from his Australian homeland or native New Zealand, a judge ruled Mr Conibeer be jailed for eight months.

"I felt abandoned by both consulates," Mr Conibeer, who was born in New Zealand but lived in Australia since he was a baby, said.

"I felt disowned."

Mr Conibeer describes Kerobokan as a filthy, disease ridden hell-hole where he was exposed to rotten food, filthy water, insects and vermin.

"The hard part was no access to good food," he said.

"There was no protein ... everything was rice."

Mr Conibeer said one of his best days in prison was when he managed to order pizza.

"Without the guards you couldn't get that stuff," he said.

Mr Conibeer said money sent from his family helped pay prison officers for outside food and saved him from the daily servings of inedible bread, fruit and the occasional egg.

"I couldn't eat it, as hungry as I was," he said.

Mr Conibeer said although there are far worse prisons than Kerobokan, the conditions made it a struggle to avoid illness.

"I got sick all the time," he said.

"There was no access to outside medication.

While living there he met Schapelle Corby and befriended members of the Bali nine, including now close mate Andrew Chan who is awaiting execution by firing squad.

Mr Conibeer said Ms Corby looked lost when he saw her.

"Just like an empty vessel walking around … it was very sad," he said.

Mr Conibeer said Mr Chan leads the prisons Catholic Church.

"He goes out of his way to help people," he said.

Mr Conibeer said a positive attitude helped him get through the ordeal.

"It wasn't the end of the world for me, I had a release date and I knew I was going to get out," he said.

Mr Conibeer said the Western prisoners were kept together, in a cell made for 30 but housing 55.

"I constantly sweated non-stop for 10 months," he said.

Mr Conibeer said the guards were generally respectful towards him but things like turning the electricity off, which shut down the fans, amounted to mental torture in unbearable heat.

"I slept lightly," Mr Conibeer said, who now warns tourists to be careful in the country.

"Just be safe over there."

I Survived Kerobokan by Paul Conibeer is available from all major bookstores.

Topics:  bali, hervey bay, holiday, prison




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