Bali Behind Bars: A Story of Karma and Redemption

After nearly four years behind bars in Kerobokan prison, Denis Pedant, the infamous troll of the Russian-speaking community in Bali, has finally regained his freedom.
In this exclusive interview, Pedant shares insights into his journey from riding the waves to incarceration; his experiences surviving in prison; and his thoughts on karma, Eastern European-style.
Who is Denis Pedant?
Denis Pedant, a long-term Bali resident, became notorious among the Russian-speaking community for his inflammatory and offensive remarks, and frequent insults directed at fellow members on social media.
Image: Denis Pedant
In 2021, Pedant was arrested in Bali on charges of drug distribution. From behind the bars, he attempted to continue online trolling unaware of the repercussions awaiting him within the confines of Kerobokan prison.
Congratulations on your release, man! How does it feel to finally be free? Where are you right now?
Hey there, thanks. I was deported from Indonesia immediately after getting out of prison. Right now, I'm in Moscow, seeing snow for the first time in years. But truth be told, I'm feeling pretty low. Those gray Moscow tenements really weigh on you. I know, it's ironic, coming from someone who just spent almost four years in a Balinese prison cell.
You lived in Bali for years before your arrest. Surely, you must have known how strict things are over here when it comes to drugs? How did you end up getting caught up in a situation like that?
I came to Bali in 2014. It was my first trip abroad. From the very beginning and until my arrest in 2021 I lived in Bukit. I surfed and taught surfing to tourists. But when COVID struck, money became scarce, to say the least. A friend once asked if I could get him some weed. I don't smoke and it's not something that interests me. But because of the financial difficulties, I ended up getting some for him at a profit. That's how it all started.
Image: Denis Pedant
Any thoughts on how the police caught wind of your activities?
Many people knew about me. I was selling small quantities. But in Indonesia, even if you have 5 grams, you can face 4 to 10 years in prison. At that time, there was a gang operating in Bali. Russian-speaking guys who would snitch on anyone they could. I was just one of their targets. So, what happened was, someone asked me to bring some weed to a club. I turned up, and there was a car with six cops waiting for me. There was even a real chase. I ran like a deer, stumbling and falling, and getting back up. Eventually, I tried to jump over a fence, and it collapsed together with me. They tackled me and took me in.
Were you held in custody before your trial?
Yes, and those initial months in pre-trial detention were the most nightmarish. It's like being in a bunker from hell. The room was designed to accommodate a maximum of around 70 people, but there were 120 crammed in there. And everyone smokes. Constantly. The space was filled with smoke, dust, coughs, burps, and farts. Most of the time, I just laid on the floor, as there was more air there. All of that combined with being in a state of having no idea what awaited me.
Image: from the personal archive of Denis Pedant
Were there many foreigners in the detention centre?
Out of 120 people, about 20 were foreigners. The rest were Javanese and some from other parts of Indonesia. Many locals were regulars there: they'd get released, only to return after a few months. They all had makeshift beds made of cardboards. They constantly smoked and watched movies. They had a TV playing local action movies on repeat. They'd watch these movies over and over again. Imagine, watching the same movie like 15-20 times; it was driving everyone crazy.
Image: from the personal archive of Denis Pedant
Did you have a lawyer?
Yes, I found one through a mate, an English guy who was also in there with me. Unfortunately, the lawyer was totally useless. There was a possibility of getting a minimum sentence, like one and a half years, by arguing that I was a drug user. That's what I was hoping he'd do for me. But he just didn't bother to make any effort, so I ended up with a higher sentence for drug dealing.
How long was the trial? Did you understand anything that was happening in the courtroom?
It was during the time of a strict lockdown. All hearings took place via Zoom, so I didn't even leave the detention centre. Each morning, they'd announce over the loudspeaker the names of those scheduled for court that day. You'd simply go to the office, sit down, and wait for them to bring you a laptop. The lawyer was allowed to sit beside you. 
My trial had about 5 sessions in total, as far as I remember. The verdict was read out, quite matter-of-factly. Through the interpreter, I understood that I got 4 years and 2 months. Of course, I was shocked... But then I started to reassure myself that it was the minimum sentence for my charge. I convinced myself that I was lucky...
Were you immediately transferred to Kerobokan prison?
Pretty much straight away, yes. You wouldn't believe it, but being in the Hotel Kerobokan (a nickname for Kerobokan prison) felt like being free again compared to the detention centre. It's a completely different place. There's a lot of space inside, a mini football field, a volleyball court, a basketball court, and ping-pong tables. During the day, you can walk around, do sports.
Image: from the personal archive of Denis Pedant
Locals can get work assignments there, like kitchen work or cleaning. They could get released earlier for good behaviour. But there's no early release for foreigners. You do your full sentence. At most, they can knock off a few months for exemplary behaviour, and you can officially "buy out" the last 2 months of your sentence for 800 million IDR.
What are the living conditions like inside Hotel Kerobokan? 
Inside, there are approximately 10 or 12 blocks. There's a common hall that resembles a train station vestibule, where people sleep right on the floor. Around the hall are separate small cells, some two-story, accommodating 2-4 people, and even single-person cells. I stayed in a private cell about one and a half square metres in size. Of course, better cells come at a price, but let's skip over the details.
Image: from the personal archive of Denis Pedant
And you were able to post messages online from there, and many people were following you on social media…
Yes, like everywhere, getting a phone in Kerobokan prison is not a problem. There was some internet connection too. You could receive things from outside. There were people on the outside who supported me for the first couple of years. Sometimes complete strangers would turn up with supplies for me. Prisoners also shared goodies they received with each other, things like cigarettes and food. I also contributed to the common pool. There's no such thing as "mine" in prison, really. When you receive a package, it immediately becomes communal.
Image: from the personal archive of Denis Pedant
You said that strangers brought you supplies to prison. That’s odd, given that you weren’t ’t the most popular person among the Russian-speaking community. 
I admit, I often came across provocatively on social media and assumed the role of a troll. That’s true. But for me, it was more like a desire to stand out. Unfortunately, many took my online persona too seriously and outright despised me for it. So, when I got sentenced, there were people who openly celebrated, saying that Pedant got what he deserved. 
Image: from the personal archive of Denis Pedant
To those who still can't forgive me for my online behaviour, I can say that I paid for it in full whilst in prison. There were some Russian-speaking guys there. The serious kind. They were into martial arts, prison codes, and all that. If these guys think you're living the wrong way, they can make your life hell. And when I arrived, they were waiting for me, if you know what I mean. It's like karma coming around. Like in the movies.
How did they find out about your reputation on social media?
Well, you know, the Russian-speaking community in Bali is very close-knit; everyone knows everything about everyone. 
Image: Denis Pedant
Initially, they just had a word with me about it. They even allowed me to keep posting online, but warned not to respond to comments or spread negativity. But then this girl with whom I had beef online in the past posted something in the group. I responded in my usual way. The next morning, I was called to a private room to have a word. Got a slap on the wrist. And that happened a few more times. Then things settled down. Or, rather, I calmed down. I accepted that I can’t continue stirring up trouble online. And I am actually grateful for the lesson. It was time to let go of my arrogance.
So, are they the ones who ensure that certain standards are upheld? Are they some kind of overseers?
I guess you could call them that. Honestly, I'm not really involved in those matters. But I can tell you this much: don't make mistakes, and don't think that nobody is watching you from Hotel Kerobokan when you get yourself involved in unlawful activities on the island or mistreat your fellow countrymen. Trust me, there are people who keep an eye on things. They stay updated on all the news from the outside and document cases of scams and fraud. They can watch you for years. And when the time comes, if, God forbid, you find yourself on the other side of the fence in Kerobokan, they'll come down on you hard. Here in Bali, nothing stays hidden; everything immediately becomes the concern of the entire community.
Is this applicable only to the Russian-speaking prisoners? 
Well, among the locals, they have their own system too. They've got their own bosses. If someone loses control, harms another inmate, or just acts out, they deal with it. They might give them a few slaps or even dunk them in cold water for a day. 
Our guys don't get involved; they handle their own issues. I made mistakes, but thankfully it was just online banter. They gave me a few slaps, explained everything, and I got the message. Nobody harassed me; I was part of the international group in Kerobokan and was free to communicate with whomever I wanted to. I also helped them out, mostly with health-related stuff like massages and cupping therapy.
Were there any cases when Russian-speaking inmates were severely punished?
Of course. There were instances where punishments were so severe, you wouldn’t wish them on your worst enemy. For example, there was this Russian-speaking scammer with us. A well-known personality among the Russian-speaking expats, by the way. Before he got busted, he also snitched on many people. Like nasty stuff, leading to deportations and the like. He had some ties with local authorities, so he felt untouchable... But for those guys in there, they don’t care. To them he was just another con artist. They didn't touch him right away, but they watched him closely. He felt confident and started pulling scams from inside the prison. The guys gathered solid evidence on his activities, and then turned his life into hell. They reminded him of all the people he had scammed and snitched on. They had everything documented, man! Like even copies of his snitching reports on his fellow countrymen... And then he underwent regular "procedures". I mean, even thinking about that stuff makes me want to vomit... After about a month, the whole prison was calling him by a female name. In the end, the administration had to place him in solitary confinement.
Over there, neither your money nor your muscles would save you. It’s a prison rule, and there is no one to complain to. 
From what you've described, Kerobokan sounds like an inferno for Russian-speaking inmates…
For some, absolutely. Doing time there is tough for scammers and snitches. But if your reputation is clean, they'll support you like a brother. 
Were there conflicts between foreign and local inmates?
If you're a calm, level-headed type, you won't have any problems with anyone. Believe it or not, but even in Hotel Kerobokan you can still feel the famous Bali vibe— there is sunshine, warmth, everyone's relaxed. Of course, to them, you're still just a "bule”, and all they're interested in is money. Whether it's buying something for them or paying for something. Like cigarettes. But it's all in a positive light. I spent most of my time keeping myself to myself in my cell, doing yoga. Sometimes I'd go online, express my thoughts. The guards are lenient, but if you get into a fight with someone, it's straight to solitary confinement. From 10 days to a month.
How's the food there?
If you don't get any supplies from the outside, surviving on prison food isn't easy. Meals there consist of rice, vegetables, and some unidentifiable meat. I’ve no idea where it's all prepared, or who's handling it, or what the hygiene conditions are like. 
Image: from the personal archive of Denis Pedant
Personally, I used to be very particular about my diet before prison. I followed a strict nutritional plan. So, the food there was quite a shock. But, you know, there are also a couple of warungs, cafes, and shops right on the premises. You can even buy ice cream there. Or get them to fry up some fish for you. You also get deliveries, using Gojek, from any café on the island. If you have money.
Was it hot in there?
You get used to it pretty quickly, actually. And the prison building is designed to have good airflow. Plus, you can get a fan. There's a shared one for every 20 people. But if you really wanted, you could get your own for your cell. 
Image: from the personal archive of Denis Pedant
What was the final duration of your sentence?
I spent a total of three years and eight months behind bars. I got six months off for good behaviour. The initial years flew by, almost in the blink of an eye. But towards the end, it got tough, no doubt about it.
What did you miss the most during those four years behind bars?
I won't try to be clever about it. I missed sex. The warmth of a woman. And, of course, the ocean. Staring out of the window from Hotel Kerobokan, you can see a lot of tourists passing by. Many of the foreigners I was with had been renting villas in the area before ending up in prison. It's that feeling that your life before the prison is right there, so close by. 
Image: Denis Pedant
Were you able to get to the ocean after you were released?
No, I didn't get the chance to say goodbye to the ocean. When my sentence ended, I was escorted to immigration for deportation procedures. I spent another night in confinement there before being escorted to the airport. Currently, I'm on the immigration blacklist, like any deportee. I can appeal and request removal from the list in six months.
Do you plan on returning to Bali? 
I haven't given it much thought yet. Currently, I'm considering going to India, but I'm not excluding the possibility of returning to Bali. I adore the ocean, the freedom of biking around, but I need to sort out my finances first; I'm completely broke.
What do you think went wrong? Did the island reject you, as some Bali enthusiasts claim? 
It's my own fault. At some point, I got carried away and stopped appreciating that I was living in paradise. And then it all came crashing down. Saying that, I call those 4 years in prison a retreat. I really grew in every possible way during that time. And who knows what misfortunes fate shielded me from while I was in that cell? And the story with those Russian-speaking inmates who dealt with me for my online banter - that's a lesson in itself. 
Image: Denis Pedant
By the way, they asked me to say hi to our fellow countrymen who scam and profit off Russian speakers in Bali. There are some folks in Kerobokan waiting for your arrival.
What are your plans for the future?
I'm thinking of travelling to India. I crave the sea, sand, and warm climate. But this coming summer, I'll probably stay in Russia. I'm inclined to immerse myself in creative activities. I've been studying about eternal youth for over 12 years now, expanding the boundaries of neuroplasticity of the mind. I advocate for a holistic approach, uniting the body, mind, spirit, and motivating to focus on self-love, achieving comprehensive health and vitality, like in my 20s. However, I'm against all kinds of online hyping, gurus, coaches, and such. I've seen enough of that in Bali.
I’ve heard you have your own Telegram channel...
Yes, I write poetry, play rock music, and do some dynamic meditation. Appreciate your checking it out and leaving comments. By the way, I'm open to collaborations, creative projects, podcasts, or just making interesting new connections. With the permission of the editors, I'm leaving my contact information here.
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