Finding Hope Behind Bars

My family and I visited Bali for the holidays. We invited our friends Greg and Siew Mee, their daughter and her fiancé to join in our celebration. During our conversation Greg and Siew Mee mentioned an Australian inmate they had visited. They came to know of him while their daughter had been interning in Bali. This inmate was in prison for drug trafficking and while he was behind bars, he had converted to Christianity. This man had helped to organise tennis lessons and competitions for the prison staff, repair the prison’s church and taught in the computer and art classes. Since his conversion, he also preaches during the weekly church service. 


From their stories I knew this was a man I wanted to meet. To get to him I would first have to meet his wife, Anita. I was given her address, rented a motorbike and rode out to see her. She welcomed me in and handed me a booklet about her husband, Matthew Norman. The booklet told me about his time in Indonesia and their wedding in prison. Matthew had met Anita once he was already serving his life sentence and their friendship grew to love.


Anita agreed to our meeting and so the next day Greg, Siew Mee and myself made the journey to Kerobokan Prison. When we walked in I was nervous, like a school child walking into an exam room. Inside the prison was very crowded. It was designed for 300 people but there were over 1,000 inmates. I would estimate that one bedroom held up to 15 people.


Meeting Matthew Norman was different from what I expected. He was much taller than us but his character was tender, even after 13 years in prison. He had been in prison since he was 18, as the youngest member of the Bali Nine. He had gone from the typical Australian diet to eating cheaper foods like tofu and rice but he was still healthy and strong. They even struggled to find shoes to fit his Size 46 feet!


As we walked with him through the prison I could tell he was on high demand. He helped teach a number of classes to the other inmates so they would have valuable skills once they were released. He spoke of how he wanted to continue the positive work started by Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran who were executed in 2015. He taught English and helped in the computer room which was funded by donations from churches in Australia, the United States and Europe. There was an American woman who taught painting and Matthew would help. There was even a screen printing facility which produced t-shirts designed and sold by the prisoners.


Though he is in prison, Matthew didn’t behave like a prisoner. He filled his time well through volunteering and giving of himself to others. After meeting him, I could only think of how what happened to him could happen to anyone. When he was arrested he had been hanging with the wrong crowd and following others.


Eventually the siren rang and we had to say our goodbyes. Matthew still has hope that his sentence will be reduced. With Jesus as his anchor he keeps moving every day. Serving and believing that one day he will be free to think of the future.