Heather Mack, who was convicted of killing her mother and hiding her body in a suitcase, said goodbye to her 2-old-year daughter Stella this week in Bali, Indonesia, where the two have been living together in a prison cell since Stella’s birth.
“For nine months and two years I have loved and cared for my baby in the strangest of situations,” Mack tells PEOPLE shortly after handing over her daughter to a woman who has agreed to care for the child until Mack’s release from prison in 2025.
“Stella never dreamed of being born into a life here with me at Kerobokan prison. But for us, it has been a beautiful two years. We wake up together and we hold each other when we fall asleep. She is everything to me.”
Mack agreed to allow an Australian-Balinese woman named Oshar Putu Melody Suartama — who befriended Mack shortly after she and former boyfriend Tommy Schaefer (Stella’s father) were arrested — to become the child’s guardian.
The transfer took place at Bali’s Kerobokan Prison, which was surrounded by journalists and photographers, at the tail end of Stella’s birthday party — complete with cake and stacks of gifts.
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Mack, who friends say has been transformed by her time spent caring for her daughter, was in tears for much of gathering. She clutched Stella until the very last moment when it was time to hand her off to Suartama at the prison door.
“It was a very emotional situation,” Mack’s Bali-based attorney Benjamin Seran tells PEOPLE. “There were lots of tears. But Stella looked happy. She was starting to see a life she’d never seen before from inside the prison. ”
In an exclusive audio interview from a prison in Bali, Heather Mack reveals the tragic events leading up to the headline-grabbing murder of her mother and the real reason her body was stuffed into a suitcase
Stella was born in 2015 during her parents’ high-profile murder trial, one month before a panel of judges convicted them in the grisly 2014 murder of Mack’s mother Sheila von Wiese-Mack at a five-star Bali resort.
The two Chicago residents faced death by firing squad, but Mack was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison and Schaefer received an 18-year sentence.
Under Indonesian law, Stella had been allowed to live in a cell with her mother at Kerokokan Prison until she turned 2 on Friday.
Suartama — who is married to a Balinese man and has two young sons — met Mack shortly after her arrest for the grisly murder as Suartama was at the Bali police station translating for visitors who didn’t speak Indonesian.
She spotted the pregnant Mack sleeping on the floor and soon began bringing food and prenatal vitamins to the expectant mother and paying for her medical care.
“More than two years ago I opened up my heart to Heather and Stella and today we open up our home to Stella who I will love as my own,” Suartama tells PEOPLE not long after she completed the hour-long drive from the prison to her family’s home. “This isn’t goodbye. Stella and her mom will continue their precious bond for the years to come.”
The mother and daughter will have regular weekly visits at the prison.
Earlier this week, a Chicago judge turned down Schaefer’s mother’s request to become the little girl’s guardian, but her attorney has filed an appeal.
“Heather is heartbroken,” says Mack’s Los Angeles-based attorney Brian Claypool. “But she’s thankful for Oshar, who has been involved in every phase of Stella’s life.”
During the couple’s 2015 trial, Mack’s defense attorney argued Schaefer killed von Wiese-Mack with a metal fruit bowl following an argument over Mack’s pregnancy while Mack hid in the bathroom of their luxury hotel suite. Schaefer’s bloody body was found hours later stuffed in a suitcase in the back of a taxi.