Ireland’s next pot model
A mother-of-five who was forced to turn her children’s bedrooms into a cannabis grow house by gangland figures has told how she has turned her life around and is now a part-time model.
Karen Oakes (34), from Croftwood Park, Ballyfermot in Dublin, was given a four-year suspended sentence after gardai found €12,800 worth of cannabis in her home.
It was her only criminal conviction and she has stayed on the straight and narrow ever since.
Karen is now working as a part-time model and is one of the entrants in this year’s Miss Sunday World contest.
She said she and her partner got into financial difficulty after they both lost their jobs.
“We were in a lot of debt with loans and having hire purchase on cars and all that.”
She said a criminal figure offered them money if she dropped off cash for the gang to another person.
“When the drop-off was made the guy said, ‘you gave it to the wrong person’ but that wasn’t the case at all. It was a complete set-up.”
Karen said the gang then told her that she owed them €10,000 and that became quite aggressive.
“I couldn’t sleep at night when all that was going on. My whole stomach used to lift. I was even thinking of moving down the country which would involve having all the children move school. It was just a nightmare.”
Karen said the gang told her that she could repay the debt by growing cannabis in her home. She used two rooms which had previously been her children’s bedrooms.
However, she was soon caught after gardai raided her home. However, she escaped jail after being given a suspended sentence in 2011.
“I know it wasn’t the right road to go down. We made mistakes but by God I’d never go down that road again that’s for sure.”
She said she is now getting on with her life and was really enjoying part-time modelling. But she said some people in her area constantly bring up her past in an attempt to bring her down.
“I was held back through all my years from doing things like that. I’m doing everything now that I always wanted to do and it’s just unfortunate that these trolls, as I call them, are trying to tear it away.
“It’s not that I think I’m going to get far, it’s just a confidence builder for myself. I’m really enjoying modelling.”
Karen auditioned for X Factor last year and said she was worried her past would come back to haunt her.
“There was always a fear. When I was seeing other people who were on it and things about their past would come out in the paper and you’d think that’s not nice. But I suppose you have to take the good with the bad.”
She said she entered the Miss Sunday World competition as an inspiration to other women.
“I’m not a size 8, I’m a curvy girl. I’d be older than a lot of girls going in for it and I’m a single mother. I just want show that women can follow their dreams. I want to say to women, ‘Don’t give up just because you are a certain age or you have children. There’s still hope you don’t have to curl up and die’.”