Reviewing Killing Time, by Karl Williams

Killing Time—Surviving Dubai’s Most Notorious Prisons9780283072383killing20time
Dedication:  “To all the people who have fallen foul  of justice systems around the world.”

Three 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 pretence of making an arrest, police officers take them firstly out into the desert night, and beat and tortured before being taken to the city and formally charged with drug dealing, a charge which could lead to a twenty-five year 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 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, and the prisoners are dangerous. The three Brits 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 soon is 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 eventual epiphany helps Karl decide to avoid his involvement in the criminal activities, to try and help give other prisoners small comforts.

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

I have reviewed many crime stories. The crime here 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. Buy it. Read it.

A forty-four minute interview on his experiences is available at
A news article published after Karl’s release of his book in the UK can be read at

Dokha – a tobacco product, with ‘extras’; legal in UK; ‘ignored’ in UAE unless?
Wasta – influence

Non-Fiction, written with Justin Penrose.
Colour-plate illustrated.
Published by Pan Macmillan
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-238-07239-0