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Saturday 16 December 2017

Inside the Irish prison Michaella McCollum Connolly will soon call home

Anita McSorley

Michaella McCollum Connolly's transfer to an Irish prison is nothing short of a blessing for the convicted drug smuggler.

During the week it emerged that she will serve the remainder of her six-year, eight month jail sentence in Northern Ireland.

McCollum (21) and her accomplice Melissa Reid (20) from Scotland were jailed in Peru last year after they admitted trying to smuggle cocaine worth €1.8m from Peru to Spain.

They had previously been held at Lima’s Virgen de Fatima prison but were moved to the Ancon 2 prison where they reportedly had to share a cell with 30 other prisoners.

Sanitation and toilet facilities at the mixed prison are  said to be extremely poor.

It is believed that Michaella will serve out the remainder of her sentence at Ash House Women’s Prison at Hydebank Wood in south Belfast – just 70km from her family home in Dungannon, Co Tyrone.

The prison is virtually a resort in comparison to the conditions she's face in one of Peru's most notorious prisons.

Ash House is home to Northern Ireland’s female prisoners and young offenders.

It was refurbished in 2004 to include in-cell sanitation and shower facilities.

The house has the capacity for 71 inmates but usually houses 60.

Each landing contains 16 furnished cells as well as a dining and recreation room.

The mostly single-cells contain a bed, desk, wardrobe and TV and are fitted with a toilet and wash-hand basin.

A typical day begins at 7.15am when the cells are unlocked. Prisoners can get washed and dressed before going for breakfast in the dining room.

Breakfast is followed by cleaning duties and then at around 9am inmates spend time making arts and crafts which are sold to visitors for charity under the name ‘Babes in the Wood’.

Lunch is at 12pm and then prisoners can go to the gym or do other recreational activities such as learning to play the guitar or taking education classes with the Open University.

Dinner is at 5.30pm and prisoners can play games or read until they return to their cells at 7pm for final lockdown.

Once in their cells, prisoners can write letters or watch TV until the following day.

Inmates are given prison-headed notepaper to write letters on, however letters will be read and returned if they contain improper comments.

Her father Robert told today's Irish Daily Mail that her transfer "is like winning the lottery."

"She is being moved from a place where she is in a cell with 30 other women to Hydebank in Belfast. She was living in hellish conditions and had no family around her for support because she is so far away. Now we will be able to visit her. She's a very lucky girl," he told the newspaper.

Michaella McCollum Connolly came to attention last summer when her family launched a social media plea after she went missing in Ibiza.

It later emerged that she and another woman had been arrested at Lima Airport after being caught with 11kg of cocaine in their bags.

They first claimed they had been kidnapped and forced to carry it by Columbian gangsters before pleading guilty.

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