An Australian woman has arrived home after spending eight years in a Peruvian prison in a heartbreaking story of drugs, rape, disease and death.
Bronwyn Atherton spent eight years in Santa Monica women’s prison in Lima after being caught with 17.4 kilograms of cocaine at Jorge Chavez international airport.
‘I thought: ‘I’ve lost everything, my boy, my health, it couldn’t get any worse’ or so I thought. I learnt, unfortunately, that things can always get worse,’ Ms Atherton told Fairfax.
Bronwyn Atherton spent eight years in Santa Monica women’s prison in Lima after being caught with 17.4 kilograms of cocaine at Jorge Chavez international airport
Inside Santa Monica women’s prison in Lima, Peru, where Ms Atherton spent eight years for trafficking cocaine
Ms Atherton’s tale of heartbreak began when she was just 21, living in Byron Bay with her boyfriend and three-year-old son Shamaya.
She had Shamaya when she was just 18, and three years later he would die of a restricted bowel.
She then moved to Melbourne, unable to live in the community where his death would follow her.
Ms Atherton decided she was going to move to Africa to help underprivileged children, but three days before she was due to depart she was raped by an African man.
She contracted the HIV virus from the sexual assault, which she only found out after having flown to Mozambique.
There she had her passport and photos of her son stolen. She was forced to make her way to South Africa to seek help, as Mozambique did not have an Australian embassy.
Upon her travels across the continent she had fallen in with a dangerous crowd. She was offered the chance to traffic drugs across international borders, a temptation that proved too much.
‘I was on self-destruct mode. I was running, running, running. I got on a train and as soon as I said ‘yes’, I couldn’t get off,’ Ms Atherton said.
Ms Atherton pleaded guilty to the charges, without having a trial, and was sent to Santa Monica women’s prison in Lima for 14 years
Initially she was only moving marijuana, but eventually she began trafficking cocaine.
She was first told she was only taking nine kilograms of the drug, meaning she would only face two-and-a-half years in prison if she were caught. Ms Atherton was given 17.4 kilograms instead, and was arrested at the airport.
Inside the bag, along with the drugs, were blankets, pillows and jumpers. She believed the syndicate wanted to do the ‘decent’ thing by her if she were caught.
She pleaded guilty to the charges, without having a trial, and was sent to Santa Monica women’s prison in Lima for 14 years.
‘I was surrounded by very violent women, women who killed their own children. Most of the mules I met aren’t like that. They just made a mistake. A really, really stupid one.’
While in prison, Ms Atherton’s mother (right) created a Facebook page asking people to help her get her daughter home
While in prison, her mother created a Facebook page asking people to help her get her daughter home. She received money and letters from people all around the world, which allowed her to purchase essentials within the prison walls.
She was eventually let out early due to health reasons, as she constantly needed medical attention due to HIV.
After arriving home, her ambition now is to spread her story to as many people and children as she can in hopes they avoid making similar mistakes.
‘I want to work with kids who are on the wrong path. I think my story can inspire them.’