Life In An Immigration Detention Center

Recently I happened to find myself locked up abroad in Indonesia for 16 days all because of a tweet. (Yes, a tweet…a deleted one at that!) Now let me show you around my cell at the immigration detention center, my new (and hopefully temporary) home.

  This post was written while I was locked up but not updated and published until now, so please disregard the present tense.

Let me just say right up front that this is by far the swankiest cell I have ever had the pleasure (errr misfortune) of calling a temporary home. Not that I make it a habit of getting myself locked up abroad, but an adventurous soul such as myself cannot travel the world for six years without getting into a few mishaps along the way.

The important point is to learn from these experiences and never repeat the same mistakes.

Derek Freal is locked up abroad again and being deported for a tweet
Locked up and deported because of a tweet

I also want to say that with the exception of one kantor imigrasi employee that told my girlfriend “he should suicide himself” everyone here has treated me really well. Several of them even follow me on Twitter and Path now, and I’m proud to call them friends.

Not only that but look at me — I’m tweeting from my cell. I have been allowed the luxury of holding onto my cellphone and tablet. And I appreciate that very much, for without them I would have already gone bat-shit crazy. I was even allowed beer the first few days.

Or At Least I Was.

The morning that my deportation post went viral guards came running in and quickly confiscated all of my possessions. I was left with nothing but my thoughts and a deck of playing cards I made by ripping up a couple sheets of paper. Time dragged by painfully slow and the days all blended together.

Since then my extra food supply that friends have been delivering has been cut-off, as well as my visitation rights. I also have been wearing the same dirty pair of boxers and nothing else for several days now, even though my clean clothes have long since been delivered to the immigration office.

Keep in mind again that I am not complaining about my incarceration, not in the slightest, although I am disappointed by the ludicrous issue that got me here in the first place. However as long as I am here, I might as well describe to you what life in an Indonesian immigration detention center is like.

The main area of my immigration detention cell in Indonesia
The main area of my immigration detention cell in Indonesia

My cell is actually a three-bedroom building with one large open area and a communal bathroom. And luckily I have it all to myself. I turned myself in to the authorities in a small town that apparently does not arrest many foreigners. The fellows here were even nice enough to give me an extension cord so that I can charge both my phone and tablet at a time, as well as run the fan which my missus delivered for me.

The common area of my cell at the immigration detention center in Indonesia
Common area of my cell at the immigration detention center

My room has a decent bed with some funky stained sheets, but at least they smell clean. There are two chairs and even a small desk.

My bedroom at the immigration detention center

The night guard buys me one pack of kretek cigarettes a night, although they cost about twice the price as they do in the store (profit which I’m sure goes straight into his pocket). What are Kretek cigarettes? They are hand-rolled using a mixture of various cloves — check out all the photos from my free tour of the House Of Sampoerna Cigarette Factory in Surabaya, Indonesia.

  What About Food?

I am delivered two small meals a day, sometimes both around 1-2pm, other times spaced out in the morning and evening. Except for yesterday, when they “accidentally” forgot about me and only after asking repeatedly was I finally brought one small meal of fried rice around 11pm. That or the immigration officials had already found out about my article going live — which is entirely possible. That post got over 50,000 views in less than 24hrs and has resulted in numerous interview requests from around the world.

  And The Bathroom?

The bathroom consists of a squat toilet and bucket shower system. However there is also a storeroom here that isn’t locked, so I pulled out a few boxes and by placing them upright on the squatter managed to turn it into a rudimentary western sit toilet. Luckily I have some tissues as well, but they are fast running out. I never planned on being here this long.

The bathroom of the immigration detention center

I was informed the second day I was in custody to buy a ticket to Singapore for Wednesday but then when that day arrived they wouldn’t let me leave. Now I’ve been told I have to buy two tickets — one to LA so that I pass back through American soil and then a second from LA back to Singapore. That will be a waste of $2,500+, not to mention a good three solid days spent in airports and in the air. Of course I refuse to do this until they tell me exactly when I can leave. What happens if I buy these tickets and then they don’t let me out for that flight? They’ve already done that once.

In the meantime I’m waiting to talk to my embassy, to see if they can help convince the Indonesian immigration office that Singapore, Malaysia or the Philippines all know and love me, and will not reject me at immigration simply because they see a red deported stamp in my passport.

So there you have it, that’s a tour of my current home at the Solo immigration detention center. Certainly not bad at all. It’s actually bigger than the house I was staying at in Solo — minus the air conditioning, of course. However I still would not recommend that anyone else get themselves locked up in an Indonesian detention center.

Have You Ever Been Locked Up Abroad?

See More       My Good (& Bad) Adventures   Indonesia Travel Guides   Lessons Learned While Traveling

Enjoy it? Tell a friend
About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel." ย  Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

21 thoughts on “Life In An Immigration Detention Center”

  1. Nope, none of those “luxuries” were provided Cheryl. As one guard told me “that’s what your hand for.” That bristly brush in the corner certainly didn’t have the right qualities for the job either

  2. Never been locked up abroad! And I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy! However I’ve stayed in some places worse than this! What rating would you give it on hostel world?

    • I’d give it two out of five stars. I can overlook the lack of wifi, AC or a fan, even the poor shape of the bathroom and absent bum sprayer. However the piss-poor cell signal and lackluster food are deal breakers for me. On the plus side, if you stay here I guarantee that you’ll meet some interesting people ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Be honest now… was the whole thing worthwhile just for this blog post?

    Glad you made it out, though, and I’m still waiting to hear about how your return goes!

    • Actually Stephen it was most worth it for the first post, the one that went viral. I took a snapshot of my 2014 traffic and after the huge spike in June passed, baseline daily traffic was higher — much higher — than daily traffic during the first half of the year. I tweeted Jenny a snapshot of my traffic with a thank you message a couple weeks ago. Needless to say she didn’t respond.

      I also have a third post about this going live later this month entitled: How Little Your Embassy Can Help When You Get Locked Up Abroad. That one is an interesting behind the scenes look at how getting the embassy involved not only didn’t help, it actually made things worse.

      Random side note: we are getting our Silk Road plans ready. Will be CC’ing you into the email conversation soon. In the meantime take care buddy, can’t wait to meet you in real life ๐Ÿ™‚

      • That’s the spirit, and I’ll keep an eye out for the next post. Feel free to email anytime, I’m planning on a lot of Kyrgyzstan camping/hiking for mid-June to mid-July so if you’re interested in accompanying me keep that in mind.

  4. 16 days!

    I don;t how you managed to keep sane, I would have gone bat-shit crazy from boredom!

    Hope the experience wasn’t too traumatising for you but it seems like you were well looked after until your post went viral.

    Can you go back to Indonesia now or do you have no desire to return?

    • I nearly did Ed. Luckily while I was out of my cell in the main office I grabbed two sheets of paper from a printer and a desk off someone’s desk. I ripped those two sheets into 52 small pieces and used the pen to write a number and suit on each. I must have played over 1,000 games of solitare and freecell during those remaining days…so many that the pieces of paper began to get worn. I also mentally wrote several posts but wasn’t able to write them down digitally until after my release.

      They also checked all of my electronics and hard drives before giving them back to me. They deleted all of the photos of my cell from my cell, tablet, laptop, Twitter and Instagram (I was doing one a day for the first 6-7 days, however long it was until they confiscated my electronics) but luckily as I had written this draft and uploaded the photos to WordPress already, they missed these ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Of course I wanted to wait until the hub-bub died down before publishing this. Today I was supposed to publish episode two of Derek Eats That! but unfortunately as all I have is cell data and not wifi, I cannot upload that 1.2gig video just yet ๐Ÿ™

      As far as the answer to your questions, yes and yes. After the uproar that arose online as a result of my incarceration they dropped my lifetime blacklisting from ever returning to a mere six month ban — a ban which just passed. However as much as part of me does not want to ever return, I still have too many amazing friends and unexplored places there, so I think I will be returning soon. Plus I still have to go back just to say fuck you and thank you to the girl who instigated the whole deportation campaign against me. Fuck you because it screwed up my plans and thank you because the publicity helped my career greatly. Lesson learned? There truly is no such thing as bad publicity ๐Ÿ˜‰ Oh and don’t bad mouth a government agency online while in their custody hahaha

  5. Derek that’s nuts man, just nuts, but your personality helped carry you through it AND you turned it into amazingly authentic branding too. On both counts I admire you dude. Heading to Bali on Feb 1 and I will be carefull about what I tweet as I always am throughout the world. As for the squat toilet that brings me back to many a rest stop in Thailand, India and hell, all over SE Asia for that matter. When you move away from the tourist spots in these places you’ll be a squating. Glad you came out OK dude!


    • Yup, very well put Ryan. Unfortunately as one blogger put it on a recent press trip to Sri Lanka, “every travel blogger here is known for one article, for better or worse — and that deportation one is yours Derek.” Hell I was doing a food tour in Malaysia a couple weeks ago and somehow this story came up. As I started telling it one of the girls with us started freaking out, going “OMG OMG I read about that! That was you OMG!” lol

      As far as squat toilets, I’m quite used to them as well. In fact I’m staying with a local family in north Malaysia right now, so I’m using a squat toilet on a daily basis. I just don’t like them. Easier to release the bowels when sitting comfortably instead of squatting on my haunches.

      Anyway thanks for the support and have fun in Bali. Will you be visiting anywhere else in Indonesia or just there?

  6. Woaa, Derek.. this blog post really brings back old memories. But to be honest, reading discussion on your blog comment section is more entertaining :p

    I thought the cell as sad as on Banged Abroad – National Geographic Channel, but well, I’d ever stayed at Hostel worse than that, smelly and no window.. poor me.

    I remember it was started when you had a TwitWar with Indonesian Selebtweets who bought fake followers.. hahaha, those who don’t understand how visa and overstay work, because they’ve never experienced such things. They only travel overseas for short vacation, and they think overstay is a crime.. LMAO. What a bunch of scumbags. Tsk.. tsk..

    But, well.. I enjoyed the show actually, just sit back and relax, watching another version of Indonesian Dumb and Dumberer starred by those Selebtweets ๐Ÿ˜€

    I overstayed more than one month in Singapore, and all I only need to pay around SGD 300 fine, and one week later I received my working visa with a Big smile from the officer at Ministry of Manpower.

    Deportation, It is just too much for few days overstay case like you, and yeah.. of course it is also because that attention seeker deportation campaigns against you.. ridiculous case.

  7. Yup, brought back memories for me too when I saw it in my drafts. Was looking for an alternate article to publish today since I’m on cell data (no wifi) and couldn’t upload episode #2 of Derek Eats That! — will have to wait until next Friday. And yes, definitely wasn’t the worst place I’ve ever stayed. And that whole tweetwar was something else, something few other foreigners can even comprehend or even realized happened.

  8. Having spent a few years volunteering as a visitor for immigration detainees in England it would seem that the Indonesian system treated you much better than ours would. I spoke to many detainees who had been in for about a year while our government was doing its best to deny them many basic human rights. Some have been in over three years and not even committed a crime beyond being foreign and wanting to stay in the uk and the fact that many of them had experienced unspeakable horrors in their home country generated no sympathy from our immigration system. I don’t envy you one bit as I have seen what being locked up, not knowing what’s going to happen to you and the crushing boredom does to people. So glad you werent stuck there any longer

  9. Thanks Laura, that was certainly not my finest moment. It could have been so much worse though. Anyway, how have you been? I see you’ve been on the road recently. Still calling Spain home or not anymore? Have any exciting 2015 plans? Hope all is well on your end ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Hey! That’s great that you’ve shared your story.

    But how did you fly back home? Did you buy a ticket for yourself or did they bought it for you? How did you get an airport when they let you out? Did they brought you by some car to the airport? Did they watch you until you was on board?


    • Well Mike they wouldn’t exactly trust me on a laptop or phone after publishing that article, so my friend back in the States purchased a ticket for me and for the escorting officer. USA embassy “does not provide funds for release to private individuals” they’re merely middlemen passing your message on (and not even good at that). Emerging outside, I was greeting by news crews but escorted by several of the higher ranking immigration officials. We rode to the airport in two vehicles while the reporters followed behind us in their vehicles. I was allowed to say a few words to the news cameras before entering the security checkpoint (in Indonesian) however as far as I know none of that speech was ever aired on TV, only the footage of me being escorted out of the country. Does that answer all of your questions?


Leave a Comment