Book Review: Killing Time, by Karl Williams

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

‘Dedication: To all the people who have fallen foul of justice systems around the world’

cv_killing_time_karl_williamsThree young Brits enjoying the high life in Dubai—alcohol, women, clubs, a car—and their life flips upside down when a stash of dokha is “found” in their rented white BMW convertible. Under the pretense of making an arrest, police officers take them firstly out into the desert night, where they are beaten and tortured, before being taken to the city and formally charged with drug dealing, a charge which could lead to a twenty-five year prison term or the death penalty.

Bewildered, in pain, scared s**tless—Karl, Harry and Tariq are questioned without legal representation and sent to Port Rashid prison to await their trial. They soon learn the UAE justice system is very unlike that in the UK. In Port Rashid, the prisoners are in charge. And the harder the criminal, the higher his influence on fellow prisoners and guards. Wasta is the unit of power-currency, and those with wasta inside are drug dealers, gang leaders and violent criminals. It is earned through fair means or foul—mostly foul.

The British Embassy fails to assist, and the outlook is grim. With the overhead cloud of the possible penalty, Karl and his friends have to adapt, and their ways of killing time both help them and harm them. Port Rashid is overcrowded, slummocky, the food is disgusting, the prisoners are dangerous. They must adapt to fit into the prisoners’ system of managing life inside, to survive.

The lads’ easy-going street ways are both an asset and a curse—a joking remark can defuse a taut situation and save a touchy situation from becoming violent, or turn someone into a raging maniac. Karl is soon befriended by Mohammed, a drug dealer, who lets Karl work his way up the power ladder, to the point at which he is accepted as being one of Port Rashid’s leaders.

The personality of all three friends change over the months of being in Port Rashid, and the friendship is tested. Through good times and bad—and worse—Karl struggles to hold onto his friends, to cope with missing his wife and baby girl, to hope for a fair trial and release. He is supported by “Reprieve”, an organisation which aids Brits in prison around the world.

He is shifted to the dreaded Central prison – the holding prison for those whose sentence has finally been decided. An epiphany helps Karl decide to avoid his involvement in the criminal activities within prison, and instead to try to help to give other prisoners small comforts

It may seem I have revealed too much. But the story is in the interactions between Karl and his friends, the police, and his fellow prisoners…

I have reviewed many crime stories. This crime is the maltreatment of prisoners in a city we assume to be a sparkling centre of life in the UAE. It is an eye-opener, fascinating, enthralling and appalling in equal measures. Buy it. Read it.

A forty-four minute interview on his experiences is available at

dokha – a tobacco product, with ‘extras’; legal in UK; ‘ignored’ in UAE unless…
wasta – influence

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Killing Time—Surviving Dubai’s Most Notorious Prisons
by Karl Williams, written with Justin Penrose
Colour-plate illustrated.
Published by Sidgwick & Jackson
ISBN: 9780238072390