Peru Two drug mule Michaella McCollum recalls sobbing on her concrete bunk at the Peruvian prison where she served three years and tells how inmates there were ‘so sexually active’ in a new documentary.
McCollum made headlines in 2013 when she was arrested in Peru alongside Melissa Reid. The pair had travelled to the country from Ibiza, where they were employed by a drug-dealing gang to smuggle £1.5million worth of cocaine across the world.
They were caught arriving at Lima airport and sentenced to six years and eight months inside a grim jail in the Peruvian capital, after cutting a deal with the state prosecutor to confess which reduced the maximum 15 year sentence they’d be handed if found guilty at trial. However, they were released after serving three years, with McCollum returning to Northern Ireland in June 2016.
Speaking in High: Confessions Of An Ibiza Drug Mule, McCollum told how the idea of spending 15 years in Ancon 2, one of South America’s fearsome maximum-security women prisons, made her ‘want to do something stupid’.
McCollum (left) made headlines in 2013 when she was arrested in Peru alongside Melissa Reid (right). The pair had travelled to the country from Ibiza, where they were employed by a drug-dealing gang to smuggle £1.5million worth of cocaine across the world
Michaella McCollum recalls sobbing on her concrete bunk at the Peruvian prison where she served three years and tells how inmates there were ‘just so sexually active’ in a new documentary
‘The whole place was just so toxic, everything about it was toxic, the majority of the people were toxic,’ she said. ‘The first thing I noticed about Ancon was it was just so manic and crazy and noisy, it sounded like a zoo.
‘It just felt like you were in this madhouse. There was this woman… she had caught her husband having an affair and she had killed their child, and then she fed it to her husband in a stew.
‘I’ve never been so scared and I was obviously really intimidated because we were foreign… One of the things I noticed about Ancon quite quickly was they were just so active sexually.
‘I’d never actually seen people be so open about their sexuality, I was shocked that they were doing that kind of thing quite openly. Nobody was really making that big of an issue so I didn’t really want to make an issue of it either, but I felt uncomfortable that was happening so close to me.
The Peru Two Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) and Melissa Reid were sentenced to six years and eight months inside a grim jail in the Peruvian capital, after cutting a deal with the state prosecutor to confess which reduced the maximum 15 year sentence they’d be handed if found guilty at trial
‘The way people would behave like that and the fact I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying just added to this whole confusing mad feel of the place where you never knew what was going to happen next.’
At age 19, craving sun and adventure, McCollum took her first foreign holiday to Ibiza, where she became embroiled in its hedonistic partying and drug scene.
She met a ‘Cockney guy called Davey’, who groomed her over a series of weeks with romantic beach dates before persuading her to pick up a package for him in Barcelona while she was high on acid at a villa party, in exchange for £5,000.
‘He made it sound like a walk in the park,’ she recalled. ‘I literally thought a small package of, I obviously thought it was drugs, I definitely didn’t think it was going to be anything big.’
Soon after, she said, she and another young girl – Melissa – were in an apartment in Mallorca where a man who kept a drawer full of guns in the house was preparing them to go to Lima.
At age 19, craving sun and adventure, McCollum took her first foreign holiday to Ibiza, where she became embroiled in its hedonistic partying and drug scene
Apparently there’d been a change of plan on the destination front, and McCollum, who’d ‘never really paid much attention in Geography’, didn’t want to admit she had no idea where in Spain Lima was. She claimed she only realised when she saw the computer screen on the seat in front of her on the plane.
‘I seen the huge arrow pointing towards South America and I was like, “Oh ****.” I felt panic, “Oh my God, I’m going to the jungle”,’ she explained.
After spending a day backpacking, posing as tourists, the twosome met with the cartel who stuffed their bags full of uncut cocaine.
McCollum describes the moment an armed officer put his hand on her shoulder at the airport before the drugs were discovered.
‘The guy started shouting, “Coca, coca, coca” and all of a sudden the place erupted, everyone was shouting and screaming. I just thought this is not happening, it’s not real life,’ she said.
McCollum describes the moment an armed officer put his hand on her shoulder at the airport before the drugs were discovered in the documentary (pictured being moved from the National Police anti-drug headquarters to a court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima)
‘We were handcuffed and they cuffed our feet too. It was freezing, it smelt like a toilet and it was so dark I could barely make the walls out. Lately there’d been a lot of contenders for worst day of my life but this was going to take some beating.’
She told how her bunk in her cell was a ‘piece of concrete’ and she was ‘crying all the time’. The next morning she woke up and asked to call her family, which was ‘the worst phone call ever’.
‘My mum said, “I thought you were dead”,’ she recalled, becoming emotional. ‘And then I got really upset because I didn’t know she was going through all of that. And I’m like, how am I going to tell her where I am.
‘I said, “I’m in Peru, I’m in jail,” and she was like, “What, what?”, and then the phone call ended, I didn’t get to tell her the situation.’
McCollum’s brother later told her that her mother had passed out. ‘She was just so overwhelmed by the anxiety and the stress,’ she explained. ‘I think she was just completely heartbroken.’
After she was moved to Ancon 2, McCollum became anxious about having a target on her back because she’d cooperated with the authorities to lessen her sentence
While awaiting trial at Virgen de Fatima prison, McCollum said she struggled to sleep because it was infested with cockroaches.
‘I barely ate, I couldn’t sleep, I would lie awake all night with the guilt and the cockroaches,’ she said.
‘At the beginning I was obviously really scared because I hadn’t really seen cockroaches before. And there was lots, there was so many of them. They would hide during the day, and when I would get into bed you would hear them crawling up.
‘I used to just cover myself with a sheet and hope they didn’t crawl on me. I was really paranoid because I felt like my skin was crawling all the time. I went to see the prison doctor and he basically said I was crazy because I felt like there was things on me but there wasn’t. Basically I was really losing it.’
After she was moved to Ancon 2, she became anxious about having a target on her back because she’d cooperated with the authorities to lessen her sentence.
McCollum grabbed every opportunity she could to prove that she was trustworthy in prison, even working in its ‘beauty parlour’
A cartel lawyer justifies her concerns, telling the documentary: ‘To kill a person is a business of two or three seconds. You can hire a [hitman] in a Peruvian jail.’
While behind bars, McCollum witnessed a harrowing attack where an inmate attacked another with a long needle.
‘She just leaped across the table and started attacking this other girl, her blood and hair were everywhere,’ she said.
‘After the first few horrendous months there I did slowly start to drop my guard a bit… I kind of figured if they wanted me dead it would have happened by now.’
McCollum grabbed every opportunity she could to prove that she was trustworthy. She took over the running of the prison’s beauty salon, and became a delegada – a representative – for her fellow inmates, the first English-speaking person ever to hold the role. She worked hard to learn Spanish and forged friendships with other drug mules.
‘I learned the prison had their very own beauty salon, more like a few chairs and mirrors and a concrete room, but for me it was heaven,’ she explained.
Now a mother of twins and studying for a degree, McCollum said her experience in prison was transformative
‘I got a job and I would do different hair treatments, colouring and cutting, blow-dries, waxing, nails, massage. I had no real qualifications, I was winging it but I was good at it. I had a lot of clients.
‘I really did try to improve things; I got water filters so we could all have clean water and a microwave, and we would have evenings where we have an hour of dancing.’
Her ‘lucky break’ finally came in 2015 when she met a man called Fernando who worked at the local courtroom and hired himself out to prisoners who were fed up with waiting for their parole paperwork on the side.
For a healthy fee he would grease the appropriate wheels to expedite his clients’ case, so McCollum paid the bribe and made an impassioned plea for freedom.
‘I wanted them to understand how the mistakes I’d made in the past had given me this chance to learn and grow,’ she said.
McCollum, who helped arrange for Reid to expedite her parole hearing, said prison made her the person she is today which is a ‘better person than she would have been otherwise’
She was released in 2016 and told how she and her mother ‘hugged like freaks for 10 minutes’ before the guards told her to leave. McCollum then helped arrange for Reid to expedite her parole hearing.
Now a mother of twins and studying for a degree, McCollum said her experience in prison was transformative.
‘When you’re young you don’t know it all. I made a dreadful mistake and I regret it, but what prison taught me made me who I am today and that’s a better person than I would have been otherwise,’ she said. ‘I am a mam now and I am going to get on with being the best one I can.’
High: Confessions Of An Ibiza Drug Mule airs on BBC Three on July 3.
WHO ARE THE PERU TWO?
Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum Connolly were arrested in August 2013 for attempting to smuggle £1.5million (€1.75 million) worth of cocaine out of Peru.
In June 2013, McCollum had travelled to Balearic island Ibiza to work as a dancer in a bar for that summer.
On July 31, Reid flew to South America while McCollum followed a day later.
Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum Connolly were arrested in August 2013 for attempting to smuggle £1.5million (€1.75 million) worth of cocaine out of Peru
The women, then aged just 19 and 20, carried the cocaine in food packages hidden in their luggage. Reid revealed that there was so much cocaine they were only able to fit in a few items of clothing to cover it
On August 6, McCollum was reported missing to the Police Service of Northern Ireland by her family, the same day as her arrest.
The duo were seized at Lima airport with 11kg of the Class A drug in their suitcases as they tried to check-in for a flight to Spain.
At the time of their arrest the women’s families had believed that they were in Ibiza doing bar work.
Following their arrest on August 6, the pair claimed they had been kidnapped by an armed gang and flown to Peru.
The women, who did not know each other beforehand, claim they were unwittingly introduced by friends to drugs runners, who threatened their families if they did not agree to smuggle cocaine.
The duo were sentenced to six years in prison but both served under half of that
Their story was described as ‘illogical’ and they later pleaded guilty to drug trafficking, but claimed they were doing so to secure a more lenient sentence.
During their sentencing in December 2013 the women learned they had escaped the most severe 15-year penalty in return for pleading guilty and passing on information about the gang that supplied the drugs.
On December 17 2013 Reid and McCollum were sentenced to six years and eight months in jail at the notorious Santa Monica prison in Chorrillo.
While their original sentence was due to last until April 2020 both women served a reduced sentence.
McCollum was released on parole in March 2015 after serving less than half of her sentence but was required to stay in Peru until February 2016.
Reid returned to the UK in June 2016 after serving just under half of her six-year prison sentence.