Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producers: Kathryn Bonella and Nick Greenaway
Whatever you think of Schapelle Corby’s guilt or innocence, it’s fair to say most Australians think she’s served enough time in prison.
It’s been 8 years since she entered the notorious Kerobokan prison – sentenced to 20 years for having 4 kilograms of marijuana stashed in her boogie board bag.
And it’s been a very tough eight years.
Kerobokan is a hell hole and Schapelle has been diagnosed with mental health problems.
But this week — an act of mercy — as the Indonesian President dramatically cut Schapelle’s sentence by five years, raising hopes that she could be free within months.
Liz Hayes has been in Bali for the exclusive inside story on Schapelle, her life in prison and the breakthrough deal to set her free.
INTRODUCTION - LIZ HAYES: Eight years in Indonesia's notorious Kerobokan Prison, with at least another eight stretching out in front of her. Whether you believe Schapelle Corby's tried to smuggle drugs into Bali or not, most would agree she's been punished enough. Now Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has finally shown some compassion, cutting five years off her sentence. We still don't know when Schapelle will get out, but it could be as early as August. I've been following this case right from the beginning, and I've got to know Schapelle's family, especially her older sister and fiercest supporter, Mercedes. And I can tell you, Schapelle has gone perilously close to losing her mind, if not, her life.
STORY – LIZ HAYES: For Mercedes Corby, this is the news she thought she would never get.
MERCEDES: And then it goes into the law.
LIZ HAYES: In English, that reads?
MERCEDES: 'Clemency has been granted on this day the 15th of May 2012'. President of the Republic of Indonesia, his name – Dr H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Yeah, this has been the best news we've had.
LIZ HAYES: Well, for a 20-year sentence, this makes a huge difference in.
MERCEDES: Yeah, especially when she has already done eight years.
LIZ HAYES: Since 2004, Schapelle Corby has sat in Bali's Kerobokan Prison as a convicted drug dealer - her life slowly slipping away. Have you ever been frightened that you could lose Schapelle?
MERCEDES: Yes, yep.
LIZ HAYES: When have you felt that?
MERCEDES: With her mental health. She became catatonic. I'd have to shower her, hand feed her, you know, she cut all her arms up and we were really worried she wasn't going to make it.
LIZ HAYES: So Schapelle is just here?
MERCEDES: Yep. She's literally just behind this wall. If we started yelling out, she'd more than likely hear us.
LIZ HAYES: Mercedes is Schapelle Corby's sister, and staunchest supporter. As she walks the prison perimeter, it really is a case of “so near, yet so far.”
LIZ HAYES: And I guess it occurs to you that there is just one wall between you and her and freedom?
LIZ HAYES: Schapelle Corby was 27, and embarking on a holiday with family and friends, when she was arrested at Bali Airport on October 8, 2004. Inside the cover of her boogie board bag, customs officers discovered 4.2kg of marijuana.
SCHAPELLE: I don't know what it was, but I didn't put it there.
LIZ HAYES: You knew instantly.
SCHAPELLE: No, no, I just knew there was something there.
LIZ HAYES: What worried you about that?
SCHAPELLE: It was just an instant click, 'Oh my God, I've seen these kind of things in the movies,' but I didn't know what it was at the time. I just knew that all I put in there was my boogie board and the flippers.
LIZ HAYES: These were drugs Schapelle could never explain, and from my first meeting with her shortly after her arrest, they're drugs she's always denied were hers. You weren't just being naive and silly and thought 'I'll give it a shot'?
SCHAPELLE: No, not if I get the death penalty, not if I can be in here for 20 years and never have a baby, never have a life, no way.
LIZ HAYES: Can you look at the Australian people and say without a shadow of doubt you are innocent?
SCHAPELLE: I am innocent.
LIZ HAYES: This would be the beginning of an extraordinary saga - one that would polarise public opinion and fuel a media frenzy. Why do you think Schapelle became such a big story? What was it, do you think, about your sister?
MERCEDES: A lot of people come to Bali, a lot of people love Bali. I just think it was a bit of shock?
LIZ HAYES: She struck a chord though. Is it because she was the quintessential Australian girl?
MERCEDES: Yeah, she definitely struck a chord. She could've been your sister, your daughter, your friend, just going on holiday and this is what happened to her.
LIZ HAYES: In May 2005, before a packed court, Indonesian judges found Schapelle guilty. A shell-shocked Schapelle was dragged off to prison to serve 20 years behind bars. Her family was devastated.
MERCEDES: 20 years! You know they took not one of our witnesses?
LIZ HAYES: I know. Did you ever ask Schapelle 'Are you guilty?'
MERCEDES: No, I haven't. She has told me 'I didn't do this,' so I've never had to ask.
LIZ HAYES: There's no part of you that's ever going to reconcile yourself with Schapelle being guilty?
MERCEDES: No, never. If there was anything, if I thought my sister was guilty, I would never have given up my life - as I have to - defend her, put myself out there to be put down, you know, my children, everybody's - but it's because we know.
LIZ HAYES: Mercedes led a relentless campaign to clear her sister's name. But it wasn't long before she found she was not only having to defend Schapelle, but the entire Corby family. In all of this, it wasn't just Schapelle who was sentenced, was it?
LIZ HAYES: But you've all been convicted. Yes, you're all drug dealers now.
MERCEDES: We're all drug dealers, we're all drug addicts. So the rumours and the lies and the innuendo say.
LIZ HAYES: Yes - I mean - you, your husband, your brothers, your father -
MERCEDES: Father who was passed away.
LIZ HAYES: You've all been accused of being in the drug world.
MERCEDES: Yep, every single one of us.
LIZ HAYES: And for the record, you're not?
MERCEDES: None of us are drug smugglers, we're not in the drug trade, and we stand by that.
LIZ HAYES: But as a convicted drug smuggler, Schapelle Corby had no choice but to come to terms with the brutal reality of prison life. And what is it like inside that prison? What is it like inside her cell?
MERCEDES: It's crowded. It's pretty much just a room with mattresses on the floor and a squat toilet with a bucket to shower in.
LIZ HAYES: No privacy?
MERCEDES: No privacy, no privacy at all.
LIZ HAYES: How many people in there?
MERCEDES: She has anywhere between 10 and 15 girls in her room. I think there's around 10 or 11 now.
LIZ HAYES: In her actual cell?
LIZ HAYES: Right from the day of her arrest, Schapelle always questioned whether she could survive years in prison. Can you believe it?
SCHAPELLE: No, no I can't, all I can do is try and adapt as best I can, try and keep healthy. The prosecutors are now at the point to decide whether it's 20 years or life.
LIZ HAYES: 20 years or life?
SCHAPELLE: Which to me it's like, what's the use of trying to survive these days anyway? If life's, even 20 years...
LIZ HAYES: You couldn't do that?
SCHAPELLE: For my family, I could. For myself, what's the use? I'll be 50 by the time I get out, never be married, never have children.
LIZ HAYES: Three years into her sentence, and it was clear Schapelle was struggling. The former beautician who took pride in her appearance, no longer seemed to care. What was the first sign to you that something wasn't right?
MERCEDES: She started getting more agitated. She'd always been quite calm with us, but she started becoming agitated and letting herself go.
LIZ HAYES: Mercedes says the death of their father in 2008 seemed to push Schapelle to the edge. When it was at its worst, how bad did it get?
MERCEDES: She couldn't speak, she couldn't walk. I was led into the prison to bathe her, hand feed her and the only noise we would get from her was a 'Arrh, aah' because she just couldn't speak.
LIZ HAYES: Do you think that that's because she was a broken woman?
MERCEDES: Definitely. She was not in control at all. She didn't even know who I was.
LIZ HAYES: And when she cut herself, was that a form of expression or do you think she tried to commit suicide?
MERCEDES: I actually think that was a cry for help. She heard voices, seeing things. She had made a whole new world in her head. In her head, I lived in a little hut on the perimeter of the jail and our mother was a chef there. Children lived in the bottom of the toilet in a dungeon.
LIZ HAYES: She realised that she was still in jail?
MERCEDES: No. She didn't really know.
LIZ HAYES: Schapelle is now on heavy doses of medication, delivered along with other essentials by Mercedes.
MERCEDES: Got antidepressant, antipsychotic. There's mood stabilisers.
LIZ HAYES: Her mental health is basically in your hands?
MERCEDES: This has really helped her and now that we have the doses right and the medication right, she has her bad days, but she is definitely more stable than she has ever been.
LIZ HAYES: It must irritate you when people think she is faking it?
MERCEDES: Oh, more than irritate. It makes me so angry and upset, they are just obviously ignorant people.
LIZ HAYES: The other tonic for Schapelle's mental wellbeing has been her Balinese boyfriend, Ben, whom she met in prison.
MERCEDES: You know, they can't do things that other boyfriends and girlfriends do but he definitely supports her, visits her when he can once or twice every fortnight, but he supports her and it makes her happy and she loves to have people visit, so we are definitely grateful for him.
LIZ HAYES: Is it a serious relationship, do you think?
MERCEDES: It's hard. She's in prison, he's not. And with her current mental health, and how it's been for these years, it's hard to know what's going to happen.
LIZ HAYES: He understands she's mentally ill?
MERCEDES: Oh, he definitely understands.
LIZ HAYES: It's also believed Schapelle's mental health played a role in the president's decision to grant her clemency, reducing her sentence by five years. It's still unclear when Schapelle will be released. It could be as early as August this year, or as late as 2015. What is clear is that the young Australian woman who went into this prison eight years ago will be a vastly different person when she gets out.
MERCEDES: It's going to take a long time for her to recover, if she ever does. She has to relearn, she's definitely become quite institutionalised. I've had to explain what Facebook is, or Wi-Fi. Just things that we don't get, she hasn't watched TV for eight years, she hasn't touched a computer.
LIZ HAYES: The world has passed her by?
MERCEDES: Definitely. The world has passed her by, yeah.
LIZ HAYES: So this would be home for Schapelle when she gets out?
MERCEDES: Yeah, if she is able to be granted parole, I'm assuming this is where she would have to come and stay.
LIZ HAYES: This compound is where Mercedes and her Balinese family live, and it's where Schapelle will come if she has to serve her parole in Indonesia.
LIZ HAYES: And I imagine it's a safe location for Schapelle.
MERCEDES: Yes, definitely safer than anywhere else.
LIZ HAYES: Bali had been a favourite destination for both Schapelle and Mercedes. It's where Mercedes met and married her husband, Wayan, and where they raise their three children. But while ever Schapelle remains behind bars, it can never be paradise. What impact has this had upon you?
MERCEDES: My life's definitely changed. You know, I often dream of just having my old life back, but I know that's never going to happen.
LIZ HAYES: So you as much as Schapelle must be waiting for the day when she can be a free woman?
LIZ HAYES: Because essentially you, too, will be free.
MERCEDES: Yeah. Yeah, I dream it, I vision it, and yeah, it puts a smile on my face actually now, knowing it is closer. We're one step closer.