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Michaella McCollum describes Peru drug smuggling jail experience as 'dreadful mistake'

Co Tyrone woman Michaella McCollum (left) was arrested in Peru in 2013 alongside Scottish woman, Melissa Reid for attempting to smuggle £1.5 million worth of cocaine out of Peru. Both were sentenced to six years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to drug-trafficking offences but were released in 2016 and returned home

A Co Tyrone woman who was jailed in South America for drug smuggling has revealed how she took a job in the prison beauty salon during her stint behind bars.

Michaella McCollum was arrested in Peru in 2013 alongside Scottish woman, Melissa Reid for attempting to smuggle £1.5 million worth of cocaine out of the country.

Both were sentenced to six years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to drug-trafficking offences but were released in 2016 and returned home.

Speaking in `High: Confessions Of An Ibiza Drug Mule', the Dungannon woman described Ancon II, one of South America's most fearsome maximum-security women prisons, as "manic and crazy and noisy, it sounded like a zoo.

"It just felt like you were in this madhouse," she said.

"I've never been so scared and I was obviously really intimidated because we were foreign..."

The now mother-of-two also spoke about the day she was arrested by an armed officer at the airport.

"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.

"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".

She said contacting her family about her situation for the first time was "the worst phone call ever".

"My mum said, "I thought you were dead"," she said.

"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".

The Dungannon woman said she later took every opportunity to prove that she was trustworthy and took over the running of the prison’s beauty salon.

"I got a job and I would do different hair treatments, colouring and cutting, blow-dries, waxing, nails, massage," she said.

"I had no real qualifications, I was winging it but I was good at it. I had a lot of clients".

Now a mother of twins and studying for a degree, the young woman said her experience in prison was transformative.

"When you’re young you don’t know it all," she said.

"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. I am a mam now and I am going to get on with being the best one I can".

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