Speaking from Geraldton, WA earlier this month after arriving home from a West Java prison on 21st April, Jake has found his feet and is ready to share his experiences of the Indonesian justice system and the accident that had him jailed for nearly 10 months
What really happened?
I was travelling uphill at a steep gradient, the deceased, Kokom, coming downhill, was a side pillion passenger on a motorbike ridden by her daughter. There was the briefest of touching of handlebars of both motorbikes and sadly the motorbike was not controlled by the daughter, resulting in Kokom coming off the motorbike and this resulted in her fatal injury. Having been stuck behind a very slow moving, overloaded truck, that I thought was going to roll back on me, I would have been travelling at about 5kms an hour, slow enough that I just put my feet down when the ‘collision’ took place. It was purely an accident. The road was unmarked and the daughter unlicensed, with Kokom not wearing a helmet. I assisted in getting Kokom into transport so that she could be taken to hospital. It was a shocking thing to happen and still affects me
What contact did you have with Kokom’s family?
The family supported me as they knew and understood that this was simply an accident, rather than a crime. They visited me in prison and also attended each Court appearance. As I understand Indonesian law, where there are two parties to an accident that brings about a fatality, that both persons should be charged. The last thing I wanted was to see Kokom’s daughter go to jail as a juvenile as she had already lost her mother. We were successful in the blame not being put onto the daughter and she has remained not charged. I’m grateful for the support that the family gave me. If I return to Java, I will certainly be catching up with them
What was it like for you inside?
At first I was held in police cells and I thought I would be released soon enough, so I just took that as a life experience. When they started talking to me about a long sentence, I became pretty anxious and nervous about my future. This changed my mindset to instead try to look for anything positive on a day by day basis and this included finding positives for those that cared about me, particularly my mother who was with me for the duration of my imprisonment. This included me falling back to what I knew, connecting with people through exercise. This helped me start martial arts and fitness classes in the prison. I also learnt as much Bhasa as I could and this then helped me run English classes for prisoners too, especially the younger prisoners who were missing out on all of their schooling. I just want to correct the misreporting that I had converted to Islam. The truth is I didn’t have appropriate clothing to wear to court on my first appearance and my friend loaned me his. Also I studied Islam as this was a good way for me to understand the culture and the people I was going to spend months with, but at no stage did I convert to Islam.
While I tried to stay as positive as I could, I did have really dark moments inside too, especially with the constant uncertainty and the constant changing of when I was going to be released. Particularly when Prosecutors were saying that I was looking at a 7-8 year jail sentence, that got me pretty down. As it was, I spent weeks more being imprisoned than I should have. These were all tactics from the Prosecutor and others as we would not provide the bribe he was demanding.
What further details do you want to expose about corruption?
As it was explained to me, an accident of the type I was involved with would not result in a charge at all. There have been many accidents and the usual way it would be dealt with locally is that the driver may spend a night in jail and then reparations are made to the grieving family. As a westerner, one of the mistakes was to contact the Australian consulate as this escalated things so that it was not dealt with as would normally occur. This means there are more people involved in the corruption that resulted in a demand for $25,000 US for them not to continue to prosecute me and pursue me in appealing the 9 month sentence I received. The appeals also meant I was unable to be given 1/3 remission for good behaviour, which meant that I was held when I should have been released in January.
Corruption was rife throughout me being charged and included police, lawyers, including mine, even the judge, but particularly the Prosecutors involved with the case. We have evidence of the corrupt behaviours and would be very happy to co-operate with Indonesian Authorities to expose these corrupt people.
What assistance did the Australian Consulate provide you?
The Australian Consulate were hopeless. While I applaud their efforts with the Bali Nine, they paid barely lip service to my case and to be honest were of no real value at all. One lesson is that I would never contact them again if I was in this kind of a situation.
What do you think of Indonesia and it’s people?
As far as Indonesia goes, the people are good, kind and easy going in nature. I made many friends both inside and outside of prison and some of the support I received locally was fantastic. While I was screwed over by the Indonesian justice system, it’s really sad that it’s the Indonesians who are being screwed over much more unfairly than I was and by their own people. It’s like the corruption has brought about a ‘culture of inevitability’, like no matter how gifted, hard working, honest or kind a person is, it’s inevitable that they are going to be screwed over by Indonesian’s in positions of authority. I did see some improvements in the fight against corruption by the government. For example one guy paid the same prosecutor $4000 to have his sentence reduced from 4 years to 12 months. The prosecutor later returned the money, saying he could not accept it now. Again, we’d be happy to speak to Indonesian Authorities about ways in which they could further attack corruption in their own country.
How was it when you returned?
I was clearly pretty happy when I got home, but I still had the ball and chain mentality. I didn’t even leave the hotel room for the first two days. Staying in the hotel was the best thing I felt I had ever seen but realising that I was actually free to go outside when I wanted to, took a bit of time. Simple things like having a hot shower and sleeping in a bed felt amazing really. Having family and friends taking me out helped me ease back into being in Australia again.
What are you doing now?
It’s great I’m back in Geraldton again! Currently I’m looking for work. A local company Keen Bros Truck Driving Skills are providing me with free truck driving lessons as I’m hoping to get back into work asap. I’m back into fitness and keeping busy with friends and family. I’m talking with others about how I can put back into the community and the world more generally.
What support have you received?
It’s been really amazing seeing the amount of support I have had since this saga began, including donations from many people here in Australia and even overseas. The messages, letters, phone calls and visits I received from friends and family really helped to keep my spirits up. Even the Indonesian media and local human rights organisation who held a rally outside the prosecutor’s office chanting “Free Jake” and demanding my release after my release date had already passed were incredible. Geraldton people, you have been so awesome with your support of me and my mum, I can’t thank you enough!
What lessons could ordinary Australians learn from your experience?
As I’ve already said, I would not involve the Australian Consulate. I think it’s really important to try and sort something out with the local police as immediately as you can. If I knew I was going to be released after being offered a corrupt deal, I’d seriously consider choosing the corruption, as sad and wrong as that sounds. For me, I’d always choose ‘life over money’. You can always spend life to get more money, but you can’t spend money to get more life.
Keeping a low profile in terms of the Consulate and particularly media is so important, again so things don’t spiral out of control. The Consulate when they did do anything really felt like they were just ticking their boxes, giving the appearance that they were doing something, but pretty meaningless from where I was sitting. Media really have to be managed well as they can cause real headaches in maintaining respectability towards the Indonesian Justice system. I’m sure that one of the reasons I did not get a sentence somewhere between 3-8 years is because of the respectful way in which I behaved at all times. Losing face is a big thing in Indonesia, so acting respectfully does make a difference.
Will you return to Indonesia?
I’d love to return to Indonesia. As I was deported, I’m banned from returning for 6 months. I might find other places to visit in Indonesia before I return to Java though