News National How Bali Nine mule Renae Lawrence survived 13 years behind bars

How Bali Nine mule Renae Lawrence survived 13 years behind bars

Renae Lawrence
Set free in 2017, Renae Lawrence know wants her fellow heroin smugglers' sentences reduced. Photo: Getty
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When a Bali court told Renae Lawrence she would spend the rest of her life in jail, the heroin mule barely reacted. But then the shock set in.

Later, back her in her holding cell, she burst into tears holding her head in her hands.

This wasn’t how things were supposed to go.

She thought she had played things smart by rolling over on the leaders of a ring that plotted to smuggle more than 8kg of heroin from Bali to Australia.

She thought that by telling authorities everything, the court would do what prosecutors had urged and only put her away for 20 years.

When the judges jailed her for life instead, it left Lawrence and her lawyers reeling.

At that point, the only upside for the former Newcastle panel beater was that she would not join ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran on death row.

The first few months inside Bali’s Kerobokan prison were a diaster as Lawrence’s mood swung violently between depression and boiling rage. She tried to kill herself several times.

She was at war with the prison guards, occasionally bashing them. Once she punched a wall so hard she broke her arm.

“I was angry. So angry with myself. I drank. I smashed myself up. I used to sit … and hit my head on the wall,” she later told The Australian Women’s Weekly.

She was so volatile that at one stage, prison authorities had to warn other inmates to stay away from her.

But amongst the anger and despair Lawrence was also determined, telling her lawyers to try again for 20 years.

They lodged an appeal and they won. Done with any further appeals, Lawrence put her head down and tried to focus on the fact she was the only member of the Bali Nine who would ever taste freedom again.

For the rest, it was life or the firing squad.

Bali Nine pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran paid with their lives. Photo: AAP

Inside the grounds of Kerobokan, Lawrence did her best to avoid Chan and Sukumaran, who were holed up alongside her. She was afraid of the drug ring masterminds she’d helped put on death row.

That was especially true for Chan, who she claimed had threatened to kill her and members of her family unless she agreed to carry heroin to Australia.

Chan, she later claimed, had once warned her about a place called the farm. It had sheds equipped with acid tanks. People went there, but didn’t come back.

In the early years, Lawrence was also busy avoiding another Kerobokan prisoner, fellow drug smuggler Schapelle Corby, who had made no secret of her hatred for the Bali Nine.

schapelle corby
Schapelle Corby’s mental condition brought the women together when guards asked Renae Lawrence to keep an eye on her fellow Australian. Photo: Getty

In October 2006, not long after Corby was handed her own 20-year jail term for smuggling marijuana into Bali, she wrote a book blaming them for the severity of her own sentence.

Corby described Lawrence in the book as a freak and a psychopathic lesbian, and also detailed how she’d had to stop Lawrence from killing herself.

A video would later emerge, in which Lawrence was heard alleging that Corby was guilty, knew the marijuana was in her bodyboard bag, and that she’d faked mental illness to get a shorter sentence.

Forbidding Kerobokan Prison where Renae Lawrence began her road to redemption. Photo: AAP

Despite their initial acrimony, their volatile relationship had been transformed by 2009, the tables turning when prison guards appointed Lawrence to care for Corby as she exhibited increasingly erratic and dangerous behaviour.

Lawrence would later blame their feud on manipulative guards who wanted to divide them by spreading false rumours.

As time passed, Lawrence gave several jailhouse interviews about the mellowing of her anger, the gradual acceptance of her fate, and her efforts to pass the years until her release.

She applied herself to learning the Indonesian language. She got an office job in the prison. She turned to gardening as a way of staying calm.

At one point she was even acting as a surrogate mother for a baby born to an inmate mother who didn’t want much to do with the child.

Lawrence knew her good behaviour would have benefits beyond her psychological state, with Indonesia shaving chunks of time off inmates’ sentences if they do the right thing.

This week – 13 years and seven months since she was arrested at Bali airport with neat packages of heroin strapped to her body – Lawrence will leave the Indonesian prison system for good.

With her remissions for good behaviour she will be released on November 21, bundled onto a plane, and deported. Her father, Bob Lawrence, has told reporters she is anxious her return will spark a media circus like the one that followed Corby’s return to Australia last year.

But she also has another reason to be anxious. Back in April 2005, when Lawrence and the other Bali nine mules were nabbed at Bali’s airport, she was wanted by NSW police over a high-speed chase involving a stolen car.

They are likely to be waiting for her when she lands next week, armed with arrest warrants that could send her back to prison.