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Jakarta Post

If only I were given a chance to be free

  • Merry Utami


Cilacap, Central Java   /   Fri, August 28, 2020   /   05:46 pm
If only I were given a chance to be free A group of activists ask President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to postpone the execution of death row convict Merri Utami at a rally on Jl. Pahlawan in Semarang, Central Java, in July 2018. (

My name is Merry Utami. I received the death sentence, because I was accused of smuggling drugs in the bag I brought, inside of which lay 1 kilogram of heroin I did not know of. The first time I stepped into the Tangerang Detention Center, I was terrified. Then, at the moment the judges sentenced me to death, my emotion began to stir uncontrollably. Sometimes the intention of committing suicide even arose, as I remembered the shame my family had to endure due to my case. 

Living in the prison, I tried to make peace with the unimaginable environment. I filled my days with gardening. There is a lesson I acquired from this activity: A well-grown tree can produce fruits and enlighten the mood of people who care for it. Why do I not learn to be like a tree? 

Slowly but surely, I rose up, but the yearning of my child still makes my heart shudder. My boy was struggling with routine treatments for a defect in his heart, while I could only wait inside the prison and hallucinate his voice calling me constantly. One day, I received the news that he passed away. For the second time, I was filled with regrets and my chest was like smothered, because I could not hug his body.

Many moments of losing someone I love have urged me to rise above adversities and begin to accept my situation. I then became involved in many activities, from making music to praying. I was entrusted to be the leader of Ester Choir, a choir composed of inmates. I also joined an acoustic music group that later produced an album.

Aside from that, I was fortunate enough to produce and act in a play titled Silence in the UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Hall. These diverse activities that I followed proved that an imprisoned soul can still express itself. My work always represented my unspoken yearning for my child and my father.

My routine work kept my mind busy, until one night, two prison guards woke me up. Giving me a bottle of water and a water scoop for washing my face, the guards informed me that I had to go to Cilacap in Central Java. I fell into silence. My eyes looked at the cell once inhabited by the late Rani Andriani, another death row inmate who faced the same situation I was facing now. My mind imagined my daughter, who persistently came and said, “Ma, come back home soon. I miss you, miss your hug when I sleep.”

Knowing I was being transferred to be executed, all my friends cried, even fainted. I whispered to them in my heart: “Thank you for all, pray for me, so I can be strong.” During the journey in the bus, I could only stare blankly. Everything ahead appeared blue like the ocean. The dawn was still dark when we crossed the sea to reach Nusakambangan. I was silent and obeyed every command. I realized that, as a death penalty inmate, I did not have the capacity to defend myself.

In Nusakambangan, I lost my appetite. Even when I tried to swallow water, my throat felt blocked. Inside my isolation cell, I kept my mind busy by reading the Bible, and I prayed. For two days, I did not meet anyone, except the wardens. Some days after that, I was moved to another room, which was filled with other prisoners who would be executed.

The next day, I was met by my daughter who brought along my infant grandchild. It was the height of my sorrow. I kept my tears from flowing, as I did not want my daughter to feel devastated. The short period of time given to us pumped my breath faster and faster. While my daughter cried, I only smiled reassuringly, but inside my heart ached.

Inside the isolation cell, I never lied down. I always sat and read the Bible. Once I fell asleep, probably for one to two hours. In the moment of waiting, I truly believed God would help in His own way. And it was true. That night, God let me stay alive. In the morning after my execution was delayed, I was brought back to Cilacap, and the district attorney left me at Cilacap prison, another new place for me to adapt to.

Everything in Cilacap prison appeared so unfamiliar. Every time I heard gates being opened or padlocks unlocked, my blood rushed; this went on again and again for so long. Facing this new place, I used all my experience from back in Tangerang prison. I invited other inmates to make a script for Christmas or Easter plays. At the end of 2018, we received the permit to build a church with financial helps from the guests. Finally, in 2019, the church was finished and ready to be used by inmates.

Merry Utami is a death row inmate who is being housed at Cilacap penitentiary in Central Java. She was spared the execution in 2016.Merry Utami is a death row inmate who is being housed at Cilacap penitentiary in Central Java. She was spared the execution in 2016. (Courtesy of LBH Masyarakat/File)

I hope that what I did inside the prison can prepare me to become a free citizen. I want to live and share my experience, so that no other vulnerable women would be manipulated. Therefore, I beg all Indonesians, especially the President, to show me mercy, give me a chance to be free, so that I can live around my family that has suffered mentally. 

Let me give happiness to those who have had to bear insults and punishment because of me. They were truly devastated. I hope to be free, together with my family and other people, and become once again a citizen without the status of a deceased death row inmate. Help me to ask Pak President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to grant me clemency, by signing this petition:


The writer is a death row inmate who is being housed at Cilacap penitentiary in Central Java. She was spared the execution in 2016.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.