My Life in Prison
It was six o’clock in the morning when I entered the gate of Cipinang prison in Jakarta in 1997. Four officers, two from the police station and the other from the Cipinang prison administration, guarded me to the cell where I had to live for the next four years. A young handsome man welcomed me at the front of my cell and introduced himself as the head of E block of Cipinang prison. His fair skin, brown eyes, and thick eyelids spoke to me as if it were a signal of guarantee for my safety in this place. His decent speech in an eastern Indonesian dialect and polite attitude made me appreciate his explanation about the general rules for every detainee and prisoner in Cipinang. Afterward, we talked about our background and experiences. He knew that I was detained because of political reasons. His name was Andi M., an illegitimate son of a top high-ranking official in the current Indonesian government, and he got imprisoned because of drug dealing and murder. Later, two young men came to my cell. One was a six-foot tall, big guy, and the other was a fat small guy with long hair. Andi introduced his vice, Iwan Katrok, the tall one, and said to me that if I wanted to know about anything in the celebrity world, I could ask Iwan. I was surprised and looked at Iwan curiously. Andi explained to me that Iwan was a drug dealer for many Indonesian celebrities. The other, the long-haired one, was Slamet Gundul, the famous robber and a robin hood from Central Java. Slamet shook my hand with his hard grip and said to me with a loud voice, “I am also opposing Soeharto, but we take different paths”. I laughed loudly because it was a serious joke. We talked for three hours in my cell, and each of us exchanged stories, jokes, and anecdotes. Around 10 o’clock, they left my room. I was happy meeting them because, at least, I knew that I started learning about life from my criminal friends in prison.
I knew that I would meet other friends in this place. After I had cleaned up my room, I took a walk to the prison’s hall, which was sited in the back of E block. When I tried to open its door, somebody was shouting at me in the back, “It was closed! We can only use it after lunch time”. I looked to where the voice came and I found some guys sitting on the benches under the trees in the hall’s yard. “Come here! I knew you are new here”, said the same voice to me. I came closer to them, and the person asked me again, “What article?”. I felt a bit confused with his question. Then, his friends explained to me that he asked me about what kind of law that sentenced me to jail. “Oh, subversion law”, I said. From my answer, they knew that I was a “freshman” in the prisoner’s world. “We used to say 279, or 363, or any numbers that indicate our violations of law articles”, he said to me. I smiled, and then I introduced myself to them. The guy who shouted at me was Pak De, a 60-year-old suspected killer for the murder of Ditje in the 1980s. His case was famous because it involved members of the Suharto’s family. The others were Arkuat, an ex-marine who had been involved in the smuggling business in Tanjung Priok, and Slamet Pengkor, a thief from West Jakarta. Later, I knew that this kind of answer referred to the label of a prisoner’s room. It included the name, age, and law article of prisoners, and it was attached on the front door of the prisoner’s room. It seemed that my life in prison would enrich my understanding of the prison’s language.
Before I came, they had a talk about the prison’s kitchen, which was located a hundred meters from where we were sitting, and they asked me to take part in that talking. They complained about the ransom rice and meat from the kitchen. “We have to cook rice with pandanus leaf, and I would rather bite a rubber tire than eat those ugly meals”, they said with loud laugh at the end. I was very surprised with their story and asked them about how they managed their food and their health. They said, “We usually buy our food from the market outside with the help of some officers. However, in every Christmas and Easter ceremonies, as well as Idul Fitri and Idul Adha, we got much more delicious food”. I got confused with what they had said. The old man, Pak De, seemed to understand my confusion, and he said, “We do care about our religion. We always go to mosque every Friday and pray five times everyday. However, food is another problem. Most of prisoners here come from a poor family”. I tried to interpret his words and asked him about the attempts to propose better food to the prison administration. Slamet Pengkor, who happened to heard my question, interrupted the talking and said, “Mr. Slamet Gundul frequently asked about that to the chief of the prison, but after that he always got threats of isolation cell from the prison officers”. I asked them again about making attempts through their lawyers. “We never knew if there were lawyers who would help us in prison. Our lawyers are ourselves, and nobody will help us as long as we can not defend our lives”. I thought that this was a more complex problem, and I realized that I had to learn more about living in prison. However, his words were meaningful to me. Therefore, I chose to defend myself in the court.
On the next day, there was a letter for me in my room. That was an invitation to come to a soccer game and badminton game on Friday morning and Saturday afternoon. I could not recognize the signature. However, I came to the hall on Friday at ten o’clock. I was very surprised because there were many political prisoners gather in that hall. Fauzi, and Nur Hidayat from the Indonesian Islamic State movement, Andi from the Independent Journalist Association, Sri Bintang Pamungkas, Muchtar Pakpahan, some members of the Indonesian Communist Party, and other democratic opposition leaders. They welcomed and greeted me with joyful handclaps. “We have another friend! Hip… hip Hurrah!” Sri Bintang shouted, and suddenly my whole body was wet. Somebody poured water on to me as an initiation for a new political prisoner in Cipinang. After that, I talked and chatted with them about my experience being captured by the new order police and military intelligents. They laughed and shared their experiences. One of them said to me, “It was better than my experience. Villagers who suspected me for adultery with a widow captured me. My God, she was my own nephew, and I hid in her house”. We laughed loudly for his ill fate. Moreover, at the end of the badminton game, an old man came to me. He was Hamim, who got a death sentence for the G 30 S movement, but he never got executed even after 32 years. “You will live here for four years. At first, it is always really hard, but if you can pass the second you will succeed in your life”. He left me with many questions in my head. What did he mean by those words? Later, I began to understand him. I had to arrange my life in prison in the easiest way, and tried to accept everything as well as realizing that life was enjoyable even in prison.
On a Saturday afternoon, I went to the Cipinang prison yard, which was located 500 meters from my room. When I arrived, a middle-age person shouted at me, “Come Anom, come here! We’ll kick Suharto, and make a goal!” I could not see clearly, who shouted at me, because I was not wearing my glasses. He ran to me, and offered his big palm to shake hands with me. “I am Xanana Gusmao, captain of the Cipinang soccer team”. I was very surprised, and my mouth was wide open. He hugged me and introduced me to his assistant, Joao Camara. I thought I was so lucky for coming to this soccer game. I never knew before that Xanana Gusmao, the current President of East Timor, had lived here for more than three years. Then, we got together with other political and criminal prisoners to prepare the soccer game. “Okay everybody, now the game is between political prisoners and criminal prisoners. The winner will get three packs of instant noodles, some packs of cigarette, and five boxes of instant milk”, Xanana announced to the players and spectators. I came to the game and played as much as I could. The political prisoner’s team knew that they would not win the game because the game meant two different things. First, the game was a tool for socializing with criminals, and secondly, it would function as a means for relaxation and pleasure to political prisoners. I thought that this was a kind of strategy which was made by Xanana to secure the safety of political prisoners.
At the end of my imprisonment, I got a short letter from Xanana and Hamim. Xanana said to me that I have to face the new Indonesian reality after the fall of Suharto with patience and courage. While Hamim, added that I have to learn much about life and tried to be an independent person. I knew if I ignored them, I would never learn about life from my experience in prison. However, I was also convinced that the lessons from prison would give me inspiration to start my new life. Therefore, I always reflect about my life from my experience in prison because it was worth and meaningful.
I Gusti Agung Anom Astika