Convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby has opened up in her first live interview since her high-profile release from a notorious prison in Bali, Indonesia.
Appearing with her sister Mercedes on the Kyle and Jackie O show on Wednesday to promote her updated memoir My Story, Corby described her struggle with mental illness while behind bars and how she became “catatonic” soon after the death of her father Mick in 2008.
“I was out of my mind, literally for about four years,” the 42-year-old said.
“I couldn’t even speak. People would have to massage my feet and hands because they would cramp. I was in such a hell in my mind, it’s really hard to go back to to write … Sorry, I’m going to cry.”
Fighting back tears, Corby hit out at critics who “accuse me of faking this”.
“Mental illness is real. If I could have lived without mental illness, my mind would be so much better,” she said.
“It started a few months after my dad died. It was like a (triple) whammy — dad died, my final appeal came through negative then my mum’s partner died as well. I became a complete fruit loop.”
Corby said she was “like a zombie”.
“I couldn’t even move, people would handfeed me and I couldn’t swallow. They had to put water down my throat,” she said.
She recalled how psychiatrist Jonathan Phillips came over from Australia to see her.
“He said to Mercedes he’s never experienced looking at someone in a catatonic state, because he’d never experienced that before he didn’t know if I would come out of that,” she said.
“I kind of spoke to him at the time but I was listening to the birds chirping and I thought the birds were telling me to stop talking. I thought he was Mr Squiggle. The birds were telling me, ‘You can’t let them know anything.’”
Corby said despite her mental state she remembered everything that happened, “especially my visions, I have flashbacks quite badly”.
She described getting in trouble with prison guards a number of times.
In one instance, she was discovered crawling through the ceiling looking for “ducks”, and in other and she was caught with a Nokia mobile phone and put in solitary confinement for three weeks.
The latter incident caused her to develop a phobia of talking on phones, meaning she can now only speak via video chat.
She revealed she was still with her Sumatran boyfriend, who runs a stand-up paddle shop in Bali, but that she only sees him once a year. He doesn’t want to move to Australia and Corby is “not ready” to return.
“He doesn’t want to move here, he loves his life, he’s really busy. I’m allowed (to go back), I’m not black-listed, but I’m not ready,” she said. “I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder, I want to enjoy myself and just live.”
Corby was convicted of smuggling cannabis into Indonesia in May, 2005, after the drugs were found in her boogie board bag.
She was sentenced to 20 years by the Denpasar District Court and went to Kerobokan Prison.
After a failed appeal, Corby petitioned Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for clemency due to mental illness.
She was later released on parole in February 2014, before being deported from Indonesia and returned to Australia on May 27, 2017.
She said she was no longer upset that people thought she was guilty.
“It doesn’t upset me, people are entitled to their opinions,” she said.
“They’re never going to say it to my face, but there are a lot of people who have a second uncle who worked with a friend who was the cousin of somebody who definitely knows I did it. I just walk away. I don’t need to live my life defending myself … I’ve got some really dedicated supporters.”
Asked what surprised her most about re-entering modern society after a decade behind bars, Corby said she noticed “there was a lot of plastic in the supermarkets”.
“Everything is wrapped up. You want to buy a carrot and it’s wrapped in plastic, styrofoam, all this plastic,” she said. “And then they take the plastic bags away, but it’s still in the fruit-and-veg section. It’s full of plastic, so I don’t get it.”
Corby added that her first reaction to Google was “God it’d suck to be an heir of Funk & Wagnalls”, referring to the American publisher of encyclopedias “that you have on your bookshelf because no one even opens them anymore”.
She said the biggest change, however, was the fact that her dad was no longer around. “I still can’t cope with that,” she said.
“I think funerals are really important for us living people to say goodbye and I couldn’t say goodbye, so I’m still kind of in this limbo.”
She also opened up about the famous moment the judge handed down her sentence, when Corby burst out screaming in the courtroom.
She said by that stage she had learned to count to 20 in Indonesian, and how to say life sentence. As the judge began to speak, her translator was told to stop.
“At the time I just couldn’t understand – what does that mean? Maybe that’s two months? Yeah, I’m going home! No, it’s two years. I can do it. No? What the f*** is it then? Twenty years. I was like, ‘You …’ I start yelling at them, at the prosecutor, because he was like, ‘We’re going to help you, we feel sorry for you.’ I was like a German Shepherd.”
As she was led away by police she pushed through to her mother for a hug.
“I’m going out the door and I have to start 20 years in that s***hole, I need to give them one last hug. They wouldn’t let me, that’s why I’m like fighting them off. Just let me give my mum a hug. My mum was like, ‘I’ve lived my life, let my daughter live her life, (let me) swap.’”
Asked whether they would have done anything differently in hindsight, the sisters hinted that there could have been another way out of the charges that became impossible due to the media attention.
“The thing is we didn’t know any information at the time so I’m going to answer no, because we did what we thought we needed to do,” Corby said. “We didn’t understand. It happened on a Friday afternoon at 3pm and once the media (got involved) …”
Mercedes added, “It’s a different country and things work differently. Once the media get things, those other ways become difficult.”
Quizzed on her plans going forward, the media-shy Corby responded to rumours of a possible stint on a reality TV show like The Bachelorette or I’m a Celebrity. “Never say never,” she said.
Corby said she would like to find work doing “something creative” and revealed she had recently started making epoxy resin art.
“I really love it – it makes my mind think about other things,” she said. “You can never make the same thing twice.”
Appearing on Studio 10 later in the morning, Corby was grilled on where the money from her book would go. Under Australia’s proceeds-of-crime laws, people are not allowed to profit from criminal activity – including literary proceeds.
The first version of her book, released in 2006, attracted the attention of the Australian Federal Police, which tracked a large payment of more than $250,000 to an Indonesian bank account controlled by her brother-in-law.
The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions applied for a permanent literary proceeds order in a Queensland court and Corby was ordered to pay $128,800 to the Federal Government.
Corby said she was “not sure” where the profit from her book would go and that she had not been paid for either interview. “It’s not about money, it’s about me finishing my story,” she said.
“I am not contracted to do any media publicity for this. I’m not sure (where the profit will go), I don’t know. All I know is I needed to finish this book.”
Corby said she still hoped to clear her name, saying most Australians thought of her as “Schapelle Corby the drug trafficker”.
“I see it in every headline,” she said.
Asked how she could clear her name, Corby said, “One, with strength, and two, I have these phenomenal, dedicated people, they’re called The Expendable Project, they have spent years getting Freedom of Information, government documents. For me it proves what I say about myself and I think all the evidence is there.”
Asked again to comment on the iconic footage of her sentencing, Corby said, “Nothing snapped, I just couldn’t comprehend it. She’s so young. I don’t think she was naive, I just think she was fragile and was in a place she wasn’t supposed to be. She was very young.”
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