Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Freedom for Corby recalls the Cohens' 11 year jail nightmare

For New Zealander Lorraine Cohen and her son Aaron, the drug was heroin, and the rat-infested cell was in Malaysia.

Mother and son on their way to the high court in Penang. Photo / AP
Mother and son on their way to the high court in Penang. Photo / AP

Lorraine Cohen knows about drugs. She knows about trying to get clean, then getting dragged back in again. And as she watched Schapelle Corby being freed from a Bali prison this week, Cohen was able to remember what it felt like. Years in an Asian prison for drug-smuggling, then emerging blinking into the bright tropical sunshine and the glare of the TV cameras.

Speaking to the Herald on Sunday this week, Cohen said she was "really glad" Corby had been released.

The Queensland beauty therapist was 27 when she was arrested at a Bali airport with 4.2kg of marijuana in her boogie-board bag. Now she is 36 and has served nine years in Kerobokan Prison.

Cohen believes Corby's claims of innocence. "I think if everyone hadn't made such a big hoo-ha about it she would've been out a long time ago," Cohen says. "I don't think she was guilty and I hope she enjoys the rest of her life. Take it one day at a time, that's all you can do."

Cohen knows about guilt - hers was never in dispute. She and her son, Aaron, spent 11 years in jail after they were caught with heroin in their underwear at Penang International Airport in 1985. Aaron, an addict since birth, was just 18 when they were arrested. Cohen was sentenced to death and Aaron to life imprisonment and six lashes with a cane. Both were pardoned in 1996.

Returning home wasn't easy, Cohen says. And Corby, like the Cohens, would "probably be feeling scared and wondering what to do. When I came back I couldn't even walk across the street without holding someone's hand. And you've got to learn all [the technological changes] - banking, driving a car again, even just talking to people."

Despite leaving Malaysia free of the heroin addiction that blighted her life since the age of 17, Cohen relapsed. In 2001 she and Aaron were convicted on drugs-related charges in the High Court at Auckland and sentenced to four years' jail. Two years later, while battling cancer, she received community service for possession of heroin.

Both are now out of jail and living in Auckland.

Lorraine Cohen is 70 and free of cancer. She is free of drugs, she says, although staying clean remains a lifelong battle.

"It's very hard. It's always in your head. You can clean your body up but getting it out of your brain - you're always looking for that first time again, which never happens."

For much of her life, every day she was as a slave to the needle. Then, for 11 long years in a Penang Prison cell infested with rats and cockroaches, her waking and sleeping were dictated by her jailers.

Cohen now spends her days doing "whatever I feel like doing".

"I don't have to look after a man or anything, just myself."

Where you can get help

Do you or someone you love have a drug problem? Do you think you may have one?
* Call 0800 NA TODAY (0800 628 632) and you will automatically be connected to the Narcotics Anonymous helpline nearest to your location.
* Narcotics Anonymous holds meetings every day throughout New Zealand. You can just turn up to one of the following meetings:

- Herald on Sunday

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