‘Her hair was all burnt. She refused to tell me what happened’
It’s been a year since Schapelle Corby lodged a bid for clemency on her 20-year sentence. Since then her family has remained silent, desperate to secure her release. But fears for her sister have forced Mercedes to reveal to New Idea the disturbing extent of Schapelle’s physical and emotional decline. Her hair burnt, her teeth falling out and plagued by delusions she is about to be freed, the Aussie is living a new hell.
The past year out of the spotlight has been very cruel to Schapelle Corby. Until now her protective family has kept her growing suffering from the public eye, in the hope that nothing will distract from their bid for clemency from the Indonesian government.
But with no decision in sight, a devastated Mercedes Corby can no longer remain silent about how the past 12 months have dramatically transformed her sister.
Schapelle’s now barely recognisable as the Australian girl who set out for a surfing holiday in Bali back in October 2004. Her trademark long hair – once her pride and joy – is now hacked and singed after recently being set alight, and her teeth have been falling out.
She has also lost touch with reality, as she desperately clings to repeated delusions that she is about to be set free.
Seeing Schapelle unable to speak and with tears gushing down her blank, expressionless face, is something her sister Mercedes endures regularly when she visits her sibling in Bali’s notorious Kerobokan Prison.
‘Some days she doesn’t speak and just has tears coming from
her eyes although her face is not crying, just her eyes,’ Mercedes exclusively tells New Idea.
‘It’s like she wants to speak but doesn’t, just can’t, and I am not sure she even knows she has tears. It’s hard for me to handle, so I usually try to leave quicker. I know that sounds mean but it’s too heartbreaking to see my sister like this.’
Mercedes says Schapelle is swinging from this emotionally crippled state to times when she is manic and paranoid, often obsessing that people are spying on her in the walls of her cell.
‘She gets grazes and cuts on her hands from digging in the walls and cement floor looking for cameras,’ Mercedes says.
‘This usually happens after people have been allowed into her room with cameras. She gets paranoid that they’ve
planted secret cameras in the walls and floor.’
Speaking in her first interview since Schapelle’s clemency bid to reduce her 20-year sentence was lodged a year ago, Mercedes says it has been unbearable just waiting for news. ‘When we put in the clemency, the law was that we would have an answer within seven months, but it changed. Now there is no time limit and we have no idea when the answer will be. So we are just waiting and waiting. And Schapelle is not in a good way.’
It’s been a roller-coaster ride for Schapelle. Her hopes have been raised and dashed so many times in the six-and-a-half years since she was arrested at Denpasar Airport in 2004 with 4.2kg of marijuana in her boogie board bag – which she has always denied was hers.
MERCEDES CORBY BREAKS HER SILENCE
A paranoid Schapelle (pictured in the workshop of the women’s block) often scratches her cell wall and floor, looking for what she thinks are hidden cameras
Loyal sister Mercedes has stuck by Schapelle’s side throughout her ordeal, but concedes she now dreads visiting Kerobokan Prison and witnessing her sister’s distressed state.
‘She tries not to get too hopeful, because she says she has further to fall. She learnt that the hard way on her verdict day six years ago when she was being told she’d be acquitted.’
Mercedes says although Schapelle doesn’t often understand much of reality anymore, she did seem to be having more lucid days after the clemency bid. Her last chance of early freedom, giving her a glimmer of hope.
‘Her hopes were raised by the clemency bid, but I worry that now they are are fading,’ she says.
‘She is very up and down now and I never know how she is going to be when I go in. Before Christmas she was still hopeful I think and seemed to be having more good days.’
Several months ago Schapelle even packed up her cell, clearing it out, as she waited for the President’s decision.
‘A male prisoner told her she needs to be careful and to clear her cell,’ Mercedes says.
‘I’m not sure if it was his advice or her own instincts but she has emptied her cell for fear that someone will plant drugs on her and stop her from leaving – out of jealousy. So she gave boxes of things to mum and me to take home and gave things away to other prisoners.’
Schapelle has also started imagining life outside again – something she’d stopped doing years ago. She’s daydreaming of basic things like taking a hot running shower, rather than using a bucket and ladle to pour cold, often dirty, water over herself.
‘It’s always simple things that we take for granted. She gets upset about not being able to eat with a plate and knife and fork,’ Mercedes reveals. ‘She has not sat at a table to eat all these years. She sometimes says she can’t wait to dive under a wave at the beach.
‘When she says she wants to do these things I say: “You will be out of here soon, so you can do all that Schapelle.”’
But the reality is that Mercedes has no idea when her sister will be released and free of the soul-destroying daily schedule of being padlocked into a crowded concrete cell – which she shares with 10 women and a baby– at 4.30pm every day until 7.30am.
Mercedes says even when the women’s block is open there is little for the women to do, and Schapelle copes by slipping into her own imaginary world.
Diagnosed by three psychiatrists as having major mental problems, Schapelle has been reliant on twice daily doses of anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medication for three years now.
It falls to Mercedes to get the prescriptions filled and take in the medication, but she is unable to administer it and relies on other prisoners. She says the heavy doses knock Schapelle out and make her highly vulnerable in the maximum-security prison. ‘At Christmas time, she was
at a jail party and left to walk back to her room early and just collapsed and fell asleep on the stairs as her medicine kicked in. Two girls picked her up and carried her to her mattress.
‘But you just never know what could happen. This is a jail where all sorts of people are roaming about. Schapelle is in a really bad state. Every day I wake up and wonder if Schapelle woke up OK.’
Mercedes says she knows known that she is treated better in the prison, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
‘She is made an example of and even if we tried, she is not given any special treatment. Her back teeth are all breaking off. And we have been trying to get her out for a dentist for years, but we can’t. It’s three years since she last went out to a dentist.’
Mercedes – who moved to Bali to look after her sister, and has three young children – says she will keep fighting for her understand what is going on. But on her better days when she’s lucid she might ask me: “Am I going home? “Are you here to take me home?” That is so hard. The waiting is so hard.’
In a visit several weeks ago Mercedes says her own heart skipped a beat when for a fleeting moment – she also thought the time had come.
‘A group of officials came in while I was visiting Schapelle and they all seemed to be looking in our direction. Schapelle whispered to me: “Are they here to tell me I’m going home? Should I go and get my bag?” For a split second I also thought the same. But they were all just having a look at her,’ Mercedes says.
‘I sometimes think we will never wake up from this. It’s been six-and-half years of waiting and hoping. If Schapelle had been able to have her bags fingerprinted, or to get X-rays of her bag, or check-in weight,
I know she would be free already,’ she says. ‘We have fought every day since her arrest and are still fighting. This is something we never would have imagined. It is just feeling like an endless nightmare.’
By KATHRYN BONELLA