Chan and Sukumaran unmasked
30 April, 2015, 12:00 am
ANDREW Chan and Myuran Sukumaran never thought they would get caught.
Criminals rarely do. Ask them why they did it, and they both have the same answer — the money.
But didn’t they think about the consequences? They say not. Not back then when they were young, eager for thrills and too consumed by the payday at the end.
“Pretty silly to rob a bank if I doubted I would get away,” Chan tells me once during one of our many interviews and chats over the past decade. Of course it was about the money. The lure of money.
“I didn’t do it to physically challenge myself.”
Sukumaran is the same — at the time he says it seemed like a big payday.
But for the two young Sydney men, that payday never came and early yesterday morning they were to pay for their crimes with their lives.
For them, like those executed in January and those to be executed alongside them, there were no second chances.
The young men from Western Sydney, who went to the same school, who grew up in loving and supportive families and who could be anyone’s sons, were to die side by side.
Their lives were not always inextricably linked.
Sukumaran, 33, and Chan, 31, both went to Homebush Boys High School but they weren’t friends then. Sukumaran was older and mixed in a different crowd.
At the same school was infamous western Sydney gang rape leader, Bilal Skaf. He was a year younger than Chan but Chan remembered him as being “a loose cannon”, even back then.
Skaf and his gang were sensational front page news, especially when he was sentenced to a massive 55-year sentence for his crimes. Did Chan ever imagine, back then, that one day his own story would be front page news?
By the time he was 15, he had a heavy addiction to cannabis that he would only give up when he was jailed in Bali.
Chan told a forensic psychiatrist in October 2009, who was writing a report for court, that he became drug-free for the first time in his life after going to jail.
He felt free and he never wanted to lose that feeling.
Chan always joked that he was not the smartest chap. The only A on his school report card was the A in his name, he joked.
Chan and Sukumaran didn’t connect properly until about 2002 when they met at a mate’s house, through mutual friends.
Sukumaran told a forensic psychiatrist that his early school years were difficult. Racism and bullying were a problem, and it was not until his early adolescent years that he made some friends and gained acceptance — mostly in a group of ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese.
He drifted in with them after he dropped out of his first year at university, and around this time was introduced to the drug trade. Chan and Sukumaran say the Bali plot was hatched sitting around a dinner table one night. There was no grand conspiracy.
Dubbed The Godfather and the Enforcer by Indonesian police, both later laughed at such grandiose titles. Sukumaran maintained that a Godfather or an Enforcer never gets arrested with the drugs. They were much lower down the chain than that description — they were described as low to mid-level syndicate members.
Sukumaran was still living at home with his mother and family in Sydney’s west. A career public servant, the gently-spoken and kind Raji Sukumaran has endured a nightmare for 10 years.
She genuinely had no idea what he was doing. She had made his bed up and bought his favourite seafood to make a dinner for him on his return from Bali.
After Myuran was arrested, Mrs Sukumaran rushed to Bali and the first thing she wanted to do when she saw him was slap him so hard. She was angry. She struggled to comprehend how the son she raised could end up in a jail cell in Bali.
But in the end she couldn’t slap him. She hugged him and cried. Until then she knew nothing about crime, didn’t know anyone in jail and certainly knew nothing about the death penalty.
Mrs Sukumaran has spent the past decade working, saving money and visiting Bali to see her son, always trying to be there for his birthday in April.
His siblings too have gone regularly. Brother Chinthu has been a rock of support for his mother and for his sister. Sister Brintha just wanted her big brother home. For a long time it felt this nightmare was happening to someone else.
In his last weeks Sukumaran also reconciled with the father from whom he felt estranged. When the whole family came to Bali, in the aftermath of his Presidential clemency rejection, the past was left in the past. This was a time for the family to be together and Sukumaran said the time he had left was too precious to squander.
It had been Sukumaran’s specific request to his family that the visit be a happy one, that they not sit around, miserable and crying.
Sukumaran spent that precious visit painting portraits of his family. And he and his siblings told stories about their childhood, trying to make their mum laugh at their little kid antics from all those years ago. He desperately did not want her to cry. They avoided talking about the elephant that was always in the room — the execution which inched closer each day.
But his mother had nightmares — of being handed her dead son’s body after he had been shot dead. Each night she got down on her knees and prayed for a miracle.
Chan’s family too was in Bali.
Both Chan and Sukumaran found new passions after being locked up and embarked on a kind of road to redemption. They got some donated computers and started computer and English classes for the prisoners. It morphed into more — art, painting, graphic design, screen printing, first aid, cooking, horticulture, philosophy, psychology. Prisoners were graduating with skills for the outside world and certificates.
Sukumaran immersed himself in his painting and found a mentor and confidante in artist Ben Quilty, who would later campaign for his reprieve from death row.
He started a Fine Arts Degree at Curtin University, which was awarded to him in his dying days. And he kept his humour, even in the darkest days, joking that had a good excuse to ask for an assignment extension.
Chan’s religion helped and consoled him. He studied to be a pastor, ran counselling sessions at the jail for other inmates and ran the jail’s church.
On the day that his letter from the President came through, that his clemency had been rejected, Chan was still thinking about others and was comforting a fellow prisoner with a paralysed arm who had just taken a turn.
And in early February, after the news came through that he and Sukumaran would be among the next group of prisoners to be executed, it was Chan who accompanied fellow death row prisoner, British woman Lindsay Sandiford to the jail office to receive a letter that spelled bad news for her. Sandiford was in tears. Chan gave her a hug.
The two Sydney men had hoped their good works in the jail, helping to rehabilitate other Indonesian prisoners, would be enough to earn them a reprieve. And wasn’t that what jail was all about — reform and rehabilitation? Indonesian jails are called correctional facilities.
As their ends came closer it was this that both men and their supporters grappled with.
They had done everything they could but at the end of the day it wasn’t enough for the Indonesians who seemed determined to shoot them anyway.