Drug mule Michaella McCollum says her time in prison in Peru has helped her mature, become a better person and turn her life around.
“I matured a lot though that time,” said Michaella. “Before I went to prison, I was lost. It helped me find myself. It made me a better person and turned my life around.
I no longer wanted to be partying all the time or taking drugs. It gave me a lot of time to reflect. It helped me to focus and set goals and prepare for a successful future.
Monaghan-born Michaella and Scotswoman Melissa Reid were caught trying to smuggle 11kg worth of cocaine out of Peru’s capital Lima in August 2013. At the time it was said to have been worth €1.5m.
The women were sentenced to six years and eight months in prison, but were released in 2016. Michaella, who has written a book about her ordeal, also recalled her drug-taking lifestyle in Ibiza, her decision to become a drug mule, the horror of being arrested at Lima airport in Peru and the two years and eight months she spent in prison.
“I did not take drugs in the beginning, but fell into it," she told Ryan Tubridy onradio. "It was such a normal thing in Ibiza. I was doing mainly acid. That's when everything went wrong.”
A man she met in Ibiza asked her to pick up a package in Barcelona and she agreed, even though she was never told what it contained.
“This was in the middle of a party. I didn't even ask when or what I would be picking up. I didn't ask anything. I suspected it definitely was drugs but I assumed it was going to be something small.”
She was then sent to Mallorca to meet another young woman, who turned out to be Melissa Reid and had no idea that their real destination was Lima in Peru. The moment they arrived at the airport in Lima, she began to panic.
I could see how many military police there was and I had this overwhelming feeling of fear, but I was constantly being reassured that everything was fine and that I was being over-dramatic.
It was only when Melissa arrived back after meeting a dealer that she realised how much drugs were involved. “It filled two big suitcases. This was something massive."
So massive, that when they went back to the airport to fly the drugs to Spain it took the police little time to discover the haul.
Michaella also spoke of how her mother fainted when she rang to admit she had been arrested.
It would be another six months before her mother was able to come to Peru to see her in the filthy cell she shared with 100 other prisoners. It was an emotional moment for both of them.
"I reverted to a child," said Michaella. "I sat on her knee."
The next time they met was the day of her release.
There was a long hill and I remember running. I could see my Mum and brother in the distance and I remember that feeling of being free and being without handcuffs. It was just incredible.