Saturday 24 September 2016

Michaella McCollum on prison life: How she was 'top dog', earned €250 a week and paid others to clean her cell

Tomás Heneghan

Published 21/08/2016 | 15:46

New image: Michaella McCollum during her interview with RTÉ.
New image: Michaella McCollum during her interview with RTÉ.

Convicted drugs smuggler Michaella McCollum has revealed how she became “top dog” at a notorious South American prison during her time there.

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In an interview with The Irish Mail on Sunday, McCollum explained how she ran her own beauty salon at the prison, earning the equivalent of €250 per week.

McCollum revealed she also paid other prisoners to clean her prison cell, saying: “Because it’s so dirty, I mean, even the bathroom, you wouldn’t even touch it. You’re literally cleaning your own c**p.”

Before her release from the Peruvian prison Ancon 2, she spent the equivalent of a further €100 bribing a prison guard to get her a mobile phone.

Photos of the 23-year-old Northern Ireland native were also published by The Irish Mail on Sunday, which show her posing, celebrating a birthday and various other events in the prison.

McCollum said the images were taken to send to her family back in Ireland and that they did not convey the reality of her life in prison.

Michaella McCollum arrives back in Ireland.
Michaella McCollum arrives back in Ireland.

“We would prepare ourselves for a long time because I was taking them pictures to send to my family so obviously I want to look as good as possible,” she explained.

“Those days the pictures were taken there was always an event or something happening. I weirdly look kind of happy.”

Michaella McCollum Connolly, left, and Melissa Reid are escorted from a prison truck by police at Sarita Colonia prison in Lima, Peru

For six months McCollum was given significant control in prison, being voted ‘general coordinator’ and being put in charge of the phone, television and shopping budget.

Despite the seemingly relative glamorous lifestyle she was living at the time, diary extracts from the young Tyrone woman reveal a darker side to her time behind bars.

Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly

In one entry she revealed how unbearable the heat was in prison and detailed the insect problem which prevented her sleeping through the night.

“I have lots of [visitors] at night, mosquitoes, flies and some other form of insect but they come in forces, 10+ at a time attacking you, crawling all over your skin.

Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly

“I wake up around 1-5am every morning disturbed by the itching and buzzing in my ear,” she explained.

Lighting incense to keep the insects away also led to McCollum setting her bed on fire repeatedly and on one occasion burning her eyebrow.

Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly

During her prison stint she also received almost 500 love letters.

McCollum also claimed her psychologist in the prison, Marco, attempted to sabotage her chances of being released after she rebutted his romantic advances.

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