How to survive life behind bars in Dubai’s most notorious prison

Karl Williams tells Loaded about life in one of the harshest environments on earth.

Dubai is an increasingly popular destination for British tourists seeking sun-soaked glamour and poolside partying.

According to a study from, the Middle East region represents the most popular destination for city folk, with 31% of customers choosing Dubai as their destination of choice.

Londoner and musician Karl Williams probably thinks otherwise though.

When he first set off for Dubai, it was part of a lads’ holiday with two of his closest friends.

What he didn’t realise, however, was that it would be over a year before he would return home following what could only be described as the holiday from hell.

Falsely arrested by corrupt police officers before being tortured, Williams recalls the moment “all my biggest fears came together at once” after first being thrown in a holding cell with 20 other inmates before heading off to Port Rashid Prison in Dubai.

Now the author of memoir Killing Time, 28-year-old Williams told Loaded his five steps to survival alongside some of the world’s most dangerous criminals.



Forget the movies

Being in the prison was a weird experience. People have preconceptions about what jails are like but, when you go to there, you quickly find it’s the complete opposite to what you imagined.

In the case of Port Rashid, it was very lawless, because it’s a prison run by the prisoners – who live by their own laws. The mixture of characters was crazy.

You had Russian Mafia next to Arabic gangsters, then Mumbai mafia and North Korean criminal gangs and African gangs. Somehow, everyone got on with each other but you had to find a way to fit in. But don’t believe what you see in films: not once did I ever have to carry a weapon.

Karl Williams alive and well
Karl Williams alive and well The Londoner lived to tell the tale but not everyone has


Trading is power

If I hadn’t started trading tobacco, I don’t know what position I would have been in. It made me a lot of money, helped me gain ties with police officers and gangsters and made people look differently at me.

It also improved my quality of life in small ways – I remember days when, if the food they gave us was nice, I would buy jam, cheese and even chicken from other inmates desperate for cash.

Some of the other prisoners were taken aback that I was doing stuff like smuggling, but what they didn’t realise was that I was a 26-year-old man from London, not some kid.


It really is who you know

Know who to be friends with. When I was in my first prison, I was in a cell with two guys who were Russian Mafia. They needed a phone and I remembered I had one in my property box, so I snuck the SIM card in the cast I had for my broken arm. That made me quite popular.

I had already started smuggling tobacco into the prison, but made sure I looked after the right people. Pretty soon, the Russians realised I was smuggling more in than they were, so they decided to help me out by showing me which guards were corrupt so that my shipments came in pretty smoothly from then on.

All they wanted was for me to make sure I looked after them, and I did.


Prioritise your survival

In prison, I quickly learned that it was often a case of guilty by association. For example, if you’re hanging around with a snitch, you’re going to get it in the neck too.

That situation played out once with another inmate who I’d been hanging around with. The rumour was that he was a snitch, and I got wind that the Russians were planning something.

At that point, I had to make a rational decision, based purely on my survival. Either I attacked the person they thought was a snitch or I was going down as well. So we got into it.

At that point, it was about showing the rest of the prisoners that I was not a snitch too. That was all that stopped me from getting hurt as well too.

Therapy by book
Therapy by book The process of writing proved cathartic for Williams


Stay true to your morals

You have to stay true to your morals; be fearless but be smart with your fearlessness.

I remember, I was in my cell one day and my cellmate pulled this young kid into our cell. I was thinking ‘What’s going on here?’ Then they told me they wanted to fuck him and I was like ‘No you’re not.’ There was a group of them and then there was me, stood there, saying no.

‘What are you going to do about it?’ one of them said. ‘We can swing this one out,’ I said. ‘It’s not a problem. This is my cell and no one is being raped in my cell.’ I ended up squaring up to a lot of guys I probably shouldn’t have squared up to.

At this point, mentally, I had lost it. I didn’t care, nothing else mattered at that point, I just wasn’t going to back down. Eventually, things cooled down and I was able to explain to them that the situation wasn’t cool to me. Sex had to be consensual.

Killing Time is available to purchase or download now.

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