Renae Lawrence is set to finally walk free from her prison sentence in Indonesia.
Renae Lawrence is set to finally walk free from her prison sentence in Indonesia.

From shy girl to prison top dog

She left Australia a flat-broke, gullible 27-year-old panel beater broken-hearted from a failed lesbian love affair and ended up top dog among the inmates of Bali's Kerobokan jail.

Renae Lawrence flies back to Australia tomorrow a very different person from the frightened, stocky girl in an oversized T-shirt under arrest at Denpasar airport 13 years ago.

Lawrence effectively has grown up behind bars, blossoming into what a friend described as "a very likeable, witty, bright woman".

It was Lawrence, now aged 41, who negotiated the shortest sentence of all the Bali Nine heroin conspirators.

Over more than a decade of good behaviour and playing the game behind bars, Lawrence chipped away at her 20 years, bit by bit shaving off almost seven.

From early on Lawrence pitched for a shorter sentence, using the only bargaining ship she had - honesty with the Balinese police about just how the Bali Nine plot went down.

Three of the five Bali Nine conspirators Lawrence leaves behind in Indonesia could be leaving around the same time.

But when Matthew Norman, Si Yi Chen and Michael Czugaj received 20 years terms on appeal, they appealed again and got life or death sentences.

Lawrence on Bangli prison’s National Hero Day this month. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro.
Lawrence on Bangli prison’s National Hero Day this month. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro.

 

Renae Lawrence and another inmate this month.
Renae Lawrence and another inmate this month.

Lawrence cleverly clung to her 20 year sentence, did not appeal, and then began working away at it, a 15-day reduction here, another three months there.

She will return in the company of her mother, Bev Waterman, to a changed Australia, a media circus and four outstanding warrants for car theft and driving offences.

A NSW Police spokeswoman told news.com.au she could not confirm if Lawrence would be arrested on arrival and "we don't even know where she's flying into".

Lawrence is expected to make a court appearance to answer the charges, which possibly could be dismissed.

How she handles life back in Australia and freedom and may be testament to the patience Lawrence has learnt in prison.

People who have met her behind bars in Indonesia say she is much changed from the angry young woman caught up in a drug gang which she claims threatened her family's lives.

Winding the clock back to Lawrence's 27th birthday, she was unknowingly being lured into a cartel linked to one of the world's biggest drug syndicates, Crescent Moon.

Lawrence said Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan (above before trial with Tan Duc Tanh Nguyen) threatened her family. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro.
Lawrence said Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan (above before trial with Tan Duc Tanh Nguyen) threatened her family. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro.

 

Post-arrest reality sinks in for Lawrence and Norman.
Post-arrest reality sinks in for Lawrence and Norman.

This was seven months before the Bali Nine arrests, and Lawrence says the future kingpins Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran ordered her to do a drug run to Bali

"If I do not follow his orders and if I tell other people ... he will hurt me and my family," Lawrence says Chan told her.

Chan's imposing martial arts expert friend Sukumaran said: "You have to do it, you have no choice."

Chan and Sukumaran were already involved with a Korean-Australian drug conspirator who they visited in jail and who later served time for another heroin plot Chan orchestrated.

Lawrence met Chan working for catering company, Eurest, which serviced the Sydney Cricket Ground and also employed Martin Stephens and Matthew Norman.

She was in a relationship with divorced mother of three, Tracie Sampson and was close to Sampson's children.

But in October 2004, she flew to Denpasar, was summoned to a room in the Hard Rock Hotel.

Inside the room was Sukumaran, who strapped parcels of heroin to her and Chan's body and they flew home to Sydney.

Renae Lawrence sharing handcuffs with another inmate before her Denpasar District Court trial in December 2005. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro
Renae Lawrence sharing handcuffs with another inmate before her Denpasar District Court trial in December 2005. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro

Clearing customs, they were taken on a car ride with three people, Jackie, Daniel and Jai who told Lawrence to remove the packages strapped to her.

Later that day, Chan gave her an envelope and told her "to keep my mouth shut and told me not to put it in the bank all at once and not to say anything to anyone".

The envelope contained $10,000 in cash.

If she disobeyed Chan or told a soul, he would "send my family to the farm".

It is unclear what happened to Lawrence's ten grand, but soon enough she was desperate for money.

Between her first assignment as a heroin mule and her next, several things happened.

In February 2005, her car blew up.

To get it back on the road would cost $1000 and she begged her family for the money.

She had car loan repayments and a mounting credit card debt, and she needed the car to drive from Sydney to Newcastle to visit Sampson as their romance was cooling.

Then after a ten-year relationship that had begun in her teens, Lawrence broke up with Sampson, who had warned her not to get involved with Andrew Chan.

"If only I had listened to the love of my life I would not have got into this awful mess," Lawrence said later.

A guard and other female inmates on the women’s block talk with Lawrence in 2010.
A guard and other female inmates on the women’s block talk with Lawrence in 2010.

"Tracie warned me not to have anything to do with Andrew.

"She said not to trust him. She was right."

On March 26, 2005, Lawrence allegedly stole a car in the company of Matthew Norman and led police on a chase.

She allegedly drove the vehicle from Enfield in Sydney's inner west over the Mooney Mooney Bridge to Peats Ridge, and warrants were later issued at Gosford Local Court.

Meanwhile, Andrew Chan was embroiled in three heroin runs involving young Australian mules, two out of Bali and one out of Hong Kong.

Lawrence would later say she was again threatened if she didn't do the drug run.

But the money luring in the other potential mules from Sydney and three from Queensland had now grown to $15,000.

At her logistics job in the catering company, Lawrence was described as "a quiet girl and very hard working" and noteworthy for her punctuality.

She would later tell her stepbrother, Allan, as she had been forced into it, "that if she did not do it there was going to be action taken against her family".

Martin Stephens would tell the same story at Renae Lawrence's Bali drug trial, that Andrew Chan had claimed his family was under surveillance in Australia.

Lawrence during the Correctional Day ceremony inside Kerobokan jail. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro.
Lawrence during the Correctional Day ceremony inside Kerobokan jail. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro.

"He (Chan) showed me photos of my family and my girlfriend at the time,'' Stephens told a Balinese court.

"As far as I know, I could have been shot when I got back.

"He (Chan) said 'you have no choice otherwise I will make a phone call and your family will be dead'."

On April 6, 2005 Lawrence, Stephens, Norman, who was only 18, and Si Yi Chen, 20, flew to Bali.

Andrew Chan was already there. Michael Czugaj, Scott Rush and Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen flew in from Brisbane.

For the next 11 days, Lawrence later testified, Chan told them what to do, and when.

They couldn't leave the hotel room without permission or ring their families back home.

One night Stephens and Lawrence went out to get water and Chan phoned and demanded, "Why have you left the hotel?"

When Stephens said he had called his father in Australia, who needed him home, Chan came back and said Stephens had lied about the time of the call because his father had already left for work.

"So I knew someone was watching my house while we were (in Bali).''

With no way out, Stephens, Rush, Czugaj and Lawrence had the heroin packages strapped to them and headed in two taxis to the airport.

Balinese police thought Lawrence was a man as they arrested her with 2.7kg strapped to her body.

"One ripped open my shirt and saw that I had a woman's body," Lawrence later told New Idea.

Renae Lawrence's father Bob and his wife Jenny leave Kerobokan jail after visiting her.
Renae Lawrence's father Bob and his wife Jenny leave Kerobokan jail after visiting her.

"They thought I was one of the boys. He was really shocked and I was totally humiliated."

The day after their arrest, at police headquarters in Denpasar, Chan and Sukumaran denied all knowledge of the drugs, the only two of the Bali Nine not caught with any heroin.

Lawrence immediately co-operated, encouraged by a lawyer to tell the truth and get a discounted sentence.

The ringleaders continued to stonewall Indonesian investigators and by Lawrence's trial, she was contemptuous of them.

News Corp journalist Cindy Wockner's biography of the two executed men, The Pastor and the Painter, reveals Lawrence became angry with Chan.

At her trial, Chan insisted it was not true he had threatened to kill Renae or her family if she didn't carry the heroin.

She described his statements as "bohong", Indonesian for "lies".

At Kerobokan jail, Lawrence shared the women's wing with multiple female inmates including Schapelle Corby.

The two Australians had a rocky alliance.

Lawrence would later claim to Network Ten that Corby had admitted she knew cannabis was in the body board bag she carried into Bali in 2004.

Lawrence also claimed that Corby had done it three times before, and had faked mental illness. Corby has denied these allegations.

In turn, Corby's biographer Kathryn Bonella would later claim Lawrence had sex with multiple women in Kerobokan, which Renae has described as "lies".

Kerobokan prison guard with the commando knife allegedly found in Renae Lawrence’s cell in the ‘Black Sonia’ plot.
Kerobokan prison guard with the commando knife allegedly found in Renae Lawrence’s cell in the ‘Black Sonia’ plot.

In custody initially, Lawrence was angry and morbid.

She fractured her arm punching a wall of the jail, saying even if she had her time over she could change nothing.

"We had no choice to start with so if we could turn back the clock we would be still here," News Corp reported.

She told New Idea, she was depressed and made several attempts on her life.

"I was at my lowest. I thought my life was over. I wanted to die," she said.

Inside Kerobokan, however, Lawrence began to transform.

She learnt to speak Bahasa Indonesia, learnt Balinese dance and painting and began helping her fellow inmates.

Early on, she arranged for local Australian expat Lizzie Love to get mattresses for the sentenced women inmates, who had been sleeping on concrete.

Lawrence is believed to have had several different girlfriends while serving time in Kerobokan, and "the ups and downs of her love life" made her moody.

As News Corp reported, a succession of jail governors appointed her as a leader among her fellow inmates among the other woman who called her "Daddy".

Lawrence (right) lost the sack race in Kerobokan in 2009, but won a five month remission off her sentence.
Lawrence (right) lost the sack race in Kerobokan in 2009, but won a five month remission off her sentence.

She was given the coveted role of "tamping", a senior inmate who helps settle jail disputes, Fairfax News reported.

On Indonesia's Independence Day, August 17, Lawrence could usually expect a remission customary for well-behaved prisoners not serving fixed life sentences.

In 2009, five months was shaved off, and Lawrence took part in an old-fashioned sack race at Kerobokan to celebrate.

At that point, Lawrence was due for release in 2023.

But her good behaviour continued to whittle down the sentence.

Then in 2013, came a shock allegation that Lawrence and another female inmate had been caught plotting to kill a Kerobokan guard, which Lawrence denied.

East Timorese inmate Joaninha Maria Sonia Gonzales was known as "Black Sonia" after being charged with kidnapping a baby from a French family in Bali.

Jail guards alleged during a drug investigation they had found a knife on Lawrence's bed and a mobile phone with text messages between her and Gonzalez.

The discovery came while Lawrence was in hospital having her appendix removed.

Lawrence plays in a Balinese card competition with inmates on Indonesia's Independence Day this year. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro
Lawrence plays in a Balinese card competition with inmates on Indonesia's Independence Day this year. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro

A furious Kerobokan governor threatened to cancel Lawrence's last six months of sentence remissions.

"I used to trust her to manage the women's block. When she was sick, I treated her like my daughter," an angry Governor Gusti Ngurah Wiratna told News Corp.

Lawrence was moved to Bangli Jail in western Bali, pleading her innocence.

Wiratna relented and said moving Lawrence to a remote prison and restriction her remissions for twelve months was punishment enough.

At Bangli, Lawrence continued quietly on.

In August last year, she earned a six month remission, meaning she could have been released in April this year if she paid a $100,000 fine.

Having no funds, Lawrence elected to serve an extra six months.

Renae Lawrence with Bangli Jail Governor Made Suwendra who described her as ‘very disciplined and friendly’. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro.
Renae Lawrence with Bangli Jail Governor Made Suwendra who described her as ‘very disciplined and friendly’. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro.

This month Immigration officials visited Lawrence, who was granted a brand new Australian passport.

On Monday a Hindu ceremony was held to farewell her.

Tonight she will walk out of Bangli and head for Denpasar's international airport, where her nightmare began.

Bangli governor Made Suwendra said Lawrence was well-liked at the small prison complex which houses 59 inmates, 11 of them female.

"She is very disciplined, accommodating and friendly," he told News Corp.

Robert Lawrence has told reporters his daughter is anxious about the media.

Renae Lawrence told The Daily Telegraph she has no idea what she will do back in Australia, and could return to Bali after an initial six month ban expires. 

Renae Lawrence as a bridesmaid aged 18.
Renae Lawrence as a bridesmaid aged 18.
Police mugshot after her arrest.
Police mugshot after her arrest.
Martin Stephens and Renae Lawrence re-enact the Bali Nine drug plot wearing signs that mean ‘suspect’. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro
Martin Stephens and Renae Lawrence re-enact the Bali Nine drug plot wearing signs that mean ‘suspect’. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro
Lawrence is visited in 2006 by her mother Beverley Waterman, who will accompany Renae home on Wednesday.
Lawrence is visited in 2006 by her mother Beverley Waterman, who will accompany Renae home on Wednesday.
Lawrence in tears talking to her father Bob after her trial ended.
Lawrence in tears talking to her father Bob after her trial ended.
Lawrence in her cell at the Kerobokan women’s block in 2009.
Lawrence in her cell at the Kerobokan women’s block in 2009.
Facilities in Lawrence’s cell.
Facilities in Lawrence’s cell.
Prison dental check in 2010.
Prison dental check in 2010.
Lawrence in traditional Balinese dance costume in 2011.
Lawrence in traditional Balinese dance costume in 2011.
Independence Day games in 2012.
Independence Day games in 2012.
Renae Lawrence joins a tennis game inside Kerobokan prison.
Renae Lawrence joins a tennis game inside Kerobokan prison.
Lawrence with prison inmates in 2009 while she was still living at Kerobokan jail and working as ‘tamping’.
Lawrence with prison inmates in 2009 while she was still living at Kerobokan jail and working as ‘tamping’.
Bali Nine Renae Lawrence visited by her girlfriend at Negara Detention House after her transfer over the ‘Black Sonia’ incident.
Bali Nine Renae Lawrence visited by her girlfriend at Negara Detention House after her transfer over the ‘Black Sonia’ incident.
Inmates and Lawrence salute Indonesia's Independence Day ceremony inside Kerobokan jail. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro
Inmates and Lawrence salute Indonesia's Independence Day ceremony inside Kerobokan jail. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro
Renae Lawrence performs Puspanjali dance on Corrections Da inside Bangli prison. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro
Renae Lawrence performs Puspanjali dance on Corrections Da inside Bangli prison. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro
Lawrence in hospital for haemorrhoid surgery in Bali.
Lawrence in hospital for haemorrhoid surgery in Bali.
Lawrence and Schapelle Corby in 2008.
Lawrence and Schapelle Corby in 2008.
Renae Lawrence receives her Christmas Day remission in Bangli to secure her 2018 release.
Renae Lawrence receives her Christmas Day remission in Bangli to secure her 2018 release.


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