Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Many Australian readers will be well aware of the Bali Nine would- be drug smugglers and the controversy surrounding the execution, after ten years in Kerobokan Prison, of the masterminds Australian Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
Cindy Wockner’s book, The Pastor and the Painter, is not about the smuggling of drugs, although this theme is ever present, instead it is about two young men who came to realise how their earlier actions and attitudes had negatively impacted on innocent people, particularly their own families, and who tried to turn their lives around in the ten years in their Indonesian prison. However, what was ever-present was the knowledge that they had received the death penalty for their crime and Indonesia was well known for following through on this penalty especially for non- Indonesian drug criminals.
Working as the Indonesian correspondent for News Limited, Cindy Wockner was ideally placed to cover their story. They let her into their lives and she was on hand to watch them transform from angry, defiant young inmates to fully rehabilitated, good men.
This book follows the journey as Andrew Chan discovered a faith that led him to studying and passing his exams to become a Christian minister and to his dedication to helping other inmates with their problems. For Myuran his journey followed a different path. He dedicated his time to fighting for and introducing various classes for the inmates. In the process he discovered a talent for painting. Many of his paintings were sold to provide much needed funds to run the classes and to provide medical assistance for inmates and their families. As he said when he was nearing his final days, “ I came in here as a criminal and I leave as a successful artist. Now I know that my Mum and Dad will be proud of me” (260). For both of these young men it was important that they atone for the misery they had heaped on their families especially their parents.
Throughout their story the spotlight has been shone on the Indonesian legal system and all countries who still insist on using the ‘death penalty’ as well as the plight of the poor who are powerless to alter their situation even if they had no criminal intent but were still sentenced. Myuran’s last request was to Cindy was “that you help fight them (Indonesian JokoWidodo and the Indonesian attorney-general) for what they do that they never do this to another person again, and also bring attention to the others (the remaining Bali 7) as they shouldn’t have to spend the rest of their lives in jail; ten years is already more than enough time. They shouldn’t get extra punishment time just because they’re Aussies. Please help – at least that way I can rest easy “ (293).
Trying to give equal writing to both men would not have been easy. Both men were so different in temperament – Myuran tended to be more prone to times of depression, while Andrew was a larrikin to the end. In his goodbye letter to Cindy he shared how he “locked a guard in the cell as he was using one of the empty cells toilets. I had just been unlocked briefly for our 30 min exercise when I saw him inside. So I locked him inside for about 10m to 15 mins. I told him it wasn’t time for him to be let out – that he must wait” (298).
At times I found that swapping from one protagonist to the other became a bit predictable and sometimes confusing as to which was the focus. Also, including large parts of personal letters from the prisoners and their various family members, and slipping back to things that had happened previously, made the story lose its flow in places.
This was a very emotional book as we were reading about two young men, knowing they were about to die, but never knowing exactly when, knowing also that the tension would be having a heart-wrenching effect on family especially the mothers of the two boys. But it was also a very uplifting book when watching, through the text, how many lives were positively influenced by the actions of the Pastor and the Painter, who went to their maker with a hymn on their lips and at peace with how they had tried to rehabilitate themselves. They did not do this all on their own and the Acknowledgements section of the book gives some idea of just how many people were involved with trying to save the lives of the Pastor and the Painter.
This is a book well worth reading and a lesson to all who might be lured by drugs, money, excitement and fast cars. It is also a testament to the fact that no matter what mistakes we make in life we can find redemption and peace of mind through actions that have positive effects on the lives of others.
By Cindy Wockner