Faith, hope and Kerobokan

After 12 months of broken promises and shattered dreams, Schapelle Corby reveals why she still believes in miracles. Paul Toohey reports.

Paul, in his epistles to the Romans, set down some of the Bible’s most powerful and lasting exhortations. Schapelle Corby’s favourite is Chapter XII, Verse 2. She recites: "Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." What does it mean? "It means you can be born again," says Corby. "That’s how I read it."

Romans XII is a short chapter made up of 21 sentence-long verses. It is not surprising that Corby has honed in on this part of the Bible during her ordeal, which last week passed the 12-month marker. It is the home of the familiar "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord" line. It is also a call for brotherly love, and argues that judgment is not a right of humans. Those who would judge bring ruin and condemnation upon themselves.

So what about those judges who sentenced her to 20 years in prison? Romans XII has an answer for that: "Bless those who ­persecute you."

Corby’s no Bible-basher. She’s not going to walk out of Kerobokan prison – when she does get out – and check into the nearest convent. It’s just that sometimes, she says, she clicks back to reality and finds she’s been lost in prayer for hours and hours. "I was never a believer at all," she says. "I always thought it was just rubbish. But now it has made a big difference to me. I pray first thing in the morning. I pray at night. I pray for the other people in here."

We are seated on mats in the visiting area of Kerobokan with Corby’s mum, Rosleigh Rose, and her 15-year-old sister, Meleane Kisina. I’ve seen Schapelle before at close range, in prison vans and in the Denpasar District Court, but never this close. There has been a long-running dispute between the Corby family and The Bulletin as to whether her eyes are green or blue. Rose says blue. We say green.

"My eyes are blue, most of the time," says Corby. "Although, it depends what I’m wearing. If the clouds are hanging low in the sky, or if I’m furious, they flare out and turn green." They were green that day in May when she was sentenced to life in prison. What was she doing as she was sitting there in that chair, talking to herself while the judges read her sentence, sometimes staring up at a spot above the judges’ heads? She generated so much intensity it was kind of awful to witness. It was like someone was going to flick a switch and electrocute her.

"Probably I was praying," she says. "I was also looking up at the crest above the judges which is the Indonesian symbol of justice. So I was pleading and praying to that, saying to myself, saying to them, ‘C’mon, give me justice’." She says she can’t remember much of that day. She was swept into court and swept back out. "My new pretty pink shoes didn’t even touch the floor."

All of the women prisoners who were in Corby’s cell when she first arrived are now gone, set free. She has become her cell’s senior prisoner, which means she has graduated from a mat on the floor to a ledge and has slowly shuffled along that ledge to the best spot – by the only window.

"A fluorescent light is turned on in my cell at 4.30pm and stays on all through the night," she says. "It took me a long time to get used to it. I used to stay up till 11pm, reading letters and writing, but now I’ve taught myself to sleep. I generally go to bed at 6pm and sleep all through the night. I get up earlier than the other girls in my cell, at 5am, so I can use the shower by myself."

Up until last month, Corby and the eight other girls she shares with washed using the same water that had been carried in from the prison well. Then the Red Cross came in and fixed the pipes, so they have running water. She feels cleaner for that.

Cleanliness runs in the family. Rose says when she goes camping up the Queensland coast, she gets up in the middle of the night and cleans the bathroom sinks at the caravan park where she stays. For something to do. You get the feeling she’d like to be set loose in Kerobokan with a 44-gallon drum of Domestos.

A trolley comes by every night serving rice and, says Rose, "sticks and stones". So Corby and the other women cook for themselves on a gas burner. Because so many people send her gifts – shampoo, conditioner, magazines, soap, toothbrushes – Corby is a provider of small luxuries to her fellow inmates. She says there has been no bullying or harassment although she cannot keep anything to herself. She has recently been trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of the evaporating squeeze bottle of honey.

The visiting area seems a friendly, relaxed place. No doubt deceptively so. Martin Stephens, one of the Bali Nine, whose trial began this week, walks by with an expression of blanket shock. Renae Lawrence, the only girl among the nine, is nowhere to be seen. Corby says she talks to Lawrence and prays for her.

Whether it’s the lessons of Romans or good common sense, Corby refuses to condemn her jailors, the jail itself or the Indonesian people generally. "I love the Indonesian people," she says. "I don’t want Australians to blame the Indonesians because of me." She thinks any blame belongs back home in Australia, to the person she claims planted the drugs in her bag.

Corby no longer has Australian business­men trying to get her to sign her life away on books and movie deals. She says she has not signed anything nor will she. She is appalled at attempts to copyright her name as a brand. "I don’t own my own name any more. Someone tried to put my name to a dog bag, you know, one of those things that Paris Hilton carries her dog around in. It’s disgusting. Don’t these people have any morals at all? How could they do that?" Rose tells her not to worry – the lawyers are onto it. She’ll get her name back and the copywriters will get nothing.

Corby is now totally in the hands of her ­Indonesian lawyers. The Australian legal advisers have faded into the background. It’s down to the Jakarta-based gunslinger ­barrister, Hotman Paris Hutapea, and Bali counsel Erwin Siregar. Despite Hotman’s outrageously entertaining press performances, Corby feels good about him. It seems when the cameras and tape recorders are switched off, Hotman becomes a lawyer. "He tells everything to me straight," she says. "He doesn’t build up my hopes, he never lies to me. He tells me everything that could happen to me."

Corby looks well, considering. She’s put on weight but doesn’t want it said that she’s fat. She’s not fat. She wants to be described as "little" which, I guess, she is. She seems a nice and warm person. She mentions several times that she’s innocent. I expect all of her visitors reassure Schapelle that yes, they know she’s innocent. But there’s nothing I can say. I suspect Rosleigh Rose notes my silence.

Visiting time is almost up. A kiss and a hug for Mele and mum. "Bye love," says Rosleigh Rose. "See you tomorrow."

"You want a Free Schapelle stubby cooler?" says Rose. "You can have one if you think she’s innocent." I tell her it’s not my job to say whether people are innocent or guilty. (My subsequent reading of Romans XII confirms this is a good all-round policy.) Rose doesn’t like it but knows she has to buy it. I get a stubby cooler. We are seated at a Kuta sunset, just a few hundred metres from where the bomb went off the Saturday before. Rose’s other daughter, ­Mercedes, was passing at the time and leapt in to help the wounded.

Rose’s boyfriend, Greg Martin, wanders down. He employs the Shane Warne travel policy – packs tinned food when he comes to Bali because he doesn’t go for the local stuff. What is remarkable about this couple – Rose in particular – is how they’ve kept true to themselves throughout the past 12 months.

A Current Affair pays for Rose’s travel to Bali and pays for her accommodation. She could stay five-star but hangs out in a cheap family-run hotel. Rose treats all people the same and doesn’t play games. With anyone. She’s been known to get on the blower to the most powerful editors in the country (who invariably take her calls) and blast them for something she saw that she didn’t like. And then she’s over it.

Asked how the media has treated her overall, she says: "Fine. I know I’m not an educated person but no one has tried to make me look bad for it. All I’ve got is common sense. I was always taught at school that I was a dummy. My teachers told me I couldn’t read because I was dyslexic. I’ve found out I’m not dyslexic. I only read my first book three years ago because I always thought I couldn’t do it. I read it and I cried. I just couldn’t believe you could get to know a person in a book." Rose says her family cried for her achievement when she finished that book, called The Twelfth Angel, about a kid with cancer. She says she went through the cupboards and found her kids’ old Dick and Dora books and read them, because she’d never been able to read them to the children when they were young.

So, the past 12 months would have hurried that education along? "No, it hasn’t been an education. It’s been an eye-opener. [Justice Minister Chris] Ellison and [Attorney-General Philip] Ruddock say things and they never do anything to help. Not one thing. They want to cover up the situation at our airports. We all thought we had top security in Australia. "I stopped outside that airport and unloaded the kids [on October 8, 2004, as Schapelle, her brother James and two friends headed for Bali]. I could have been unloading terrorists. They’ve got no footage. Why not? Why wasn’t there something that showed the weight of her bag when she checked in at Qantas? If there had been, none of this would have happened." Are you asking for special treatment for Schapelle? "No I’m not," Rose says. "But [John] Howard says he can’t interfere in other countries. He’s always interfering in other countries."

The Corby appeal result will be known by month’s end. "I’ve got a gut feeling the judges will know the truth and feel that Schapelle is a good girl. We’re positive she’s coming home. She knows she has to come home. If not at that appeal, at the next one."

Mele has been sitting quietly. She has recently left school and says she wants to go and work in a factory somewhere. I ask her why she’d want to work in a factory. "What’s wrong with factories?" Rose snaps. She’s got me there. I mumble something about how with her good looks – part-Tongan – Mele could be a model. "I don’t want her to be a model," Rose says. "Even though – and you’re not going to believe this – I did a bit of leg modelling when I was younger. Just the legs, mind you. They couldn’t show the rest of me."

As Romans says, let us use our "gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us".

The sun is sinking in the west, as it tends to do.

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