Journalist Cindy Wockner witnessed the transformation of drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukhamaran to model prisoners, and has dedicated her book The Pastor and the Painter to their memory, Julie Houghton writes.
How were Andrew and Myuran different from other Kerobokan jail prisoners?
What was different about Myuran and Andrew was their reformation and rehabilitation, which was nothing short of extraordinary. I covered their story for a decade so I saw, with my own eyes, their transformation. Over the years a lot of people asked me if I believed it was genuine or if it really was just an elaborate act to save themselves. I have never doubted it was genuine.
How did you see them change?
When they were arrested, in April 2005, both were unrepentant. Both pleaded their innocence, refused to take responsibility for their actions and, indeed, were rude and arrogant during their initial trials in the Denpasar District Court and were subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death. But in 2010, at their judicial review hearing, they admitted their guilt and apologised. It was an important moment.
From then Myuran and Andrew became good men. Their families were proud of them. They transformed the jail and they saved many lives behind the bars. Myuran’s art workshop was well known, as was Andrew’s leadership of the jail church.
What is less well-known are the countless good deeds they did behind the jail walls to help their fellow prisoners, buying food for prisoners too poor to afford their own, arranging food for prisoners’ families on the outside, ensuring their children could afford to go to school.
They also became anti-drugs ambassadors and model prisoners. Myuran refused to allow anyone on drugs to attend the art programs. Andrew helped many prisoners beat their addiction through his pastoral care. Prisoners looked up to them and sought their help and advice.
What was the impact of Pastor Christie Buckingham and the Salvos’ Major David Soper?
Both Major Soper and Pastor Buckingham were extraordinary people. It takes an enormous amount of faith and courage to assist prisoners who are facing execution. Their roles in the lead-up to the execution and on the evening Andrew and Myuran died were crucial in ensuring that both men had all the support that they could possibly have.
The fact that they were required to spend the final few minutes with both men, as they were about to be executed, is an enormous emotional task. They had also spent several hours praying with them before that.
Major Soper had known Andrew since he was a little child. Pastor Buckingham had first become involved with both men when she started visiting Kerobokan Jail years earlier.
As a journalist, how did you feel about the two pastors?
Both pastors were extraordinarily compassionate and kind human beings, whose compassion extended to consoling Myuran and Andrew and their families and friends in the darkest of hours and under extraordinary strain.
They were also extraordinarily kind to me personally. I was doing my job but I was also emotionally burdened, given how well I knew both Myuran and Andrew. They were so calm and caring—I cannot thank them enough and remain so grateful.
How did their deaths affect you?
I will never forget the feeling of loss and sadness which overwhelmed me on the evening of the executions when it was confirmed both were gone. Such a waste of life.
What is their legacy?
They showed that rehabilitation and reformation are possible and that the death penalty is completely wrong. They made Kerobokan Jail a better place for other prisoners motivated to change and become good people. And their legacy is also the lives they saved, those fellow prisoners who are now out in the world, living productive lives and who have broken the cycle of crime and jail.