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Revelations Michaella McCollum reveals how working in prison beauty parlour helped get her parole in new BBC show

The former drug mule tells her story in a five-part BBC series

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Michaella McCollum (left) and Melissa Reid are questioned by police in Lima, Peru, in this still image taken from video provided by the police in August, 2013.

Michaella McCollum (left) and Melissa Reid are questioned by police in Lima, Peru, in this still image taken from video provided by the police in August, 2013.

Michaella McCollum (left) and Melissa Reid are questioned by police in Lima, Peru, in this still image taken from video provided by the police in August, 2013.

FORMER drug mule Michaella McCollum has told how working in a beauty parlour in a maximum security prison in Peru helped her get parole.

McCollum tells the full story behind her recruitment as a drugs cartel mule, her arrest, trial, and her beauty parlour business in the notorious Ancon II jail in a South American desert, in a five-part BBC series, High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule.

The Northern Irish woman garnered worldwide attention when she was jailed for over six years, along with Scottish woman Melissa Reid, after being arrested at Lima Airport, Peru, in August 2013.

The pair, dubbed the Peru Two, had been caught trying to smuggle a suitcase full of cocaine on to a flight to Spain.

To the beat of dance music in the new documentary series, she traces her first-ever plane ride to Ibiza at 19-years-old in the summer of 2013 to her flight back from Lima in Peru in 2016, shortly after a court there surprised onlookers by granting her parole.

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Michaella McCollum, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing in Lima, Peru on December 17, 2013. McCollum and Melissa Reid were detained earlier that year at Lima airport for allegedly trying to smuggle cocaine on to a flight to Spain. They were formally charged with drug trafficking. Photo: AP Photo/Karel Navarro

Michaella McCollum, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing in Lima, Peru on December 17, 2013. McCollum and Melissa Reid were detained earlier that year at Lima airport for allegedly trying to smuggle cocaine on to a flight to Spain. They were formally charged with drug trafficking. Photo: AP Photo/Karel Navarro

Michaella McCollum, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing in Lima, Peru on December 17, 2013. McCollum and Melissa Reid were detained earlier that year at Lima airport for allegedly trying to smuggle cocaine on to a flight to Spain. They were formally charged with drug trafficking. Photo: AP Photo/Karel Navarro

At the start of the series, she says: “That's me, Michaella McCollum. Age 19, I became one half of the Peru Two and an owner of the world's most infamous up-do.”

It was while in Ibiza that she met a handsome stranger called Davey, who groomed her over a series of weeks, before he persuaded her to go to Barcelona to pick up a package for him. She was high on acid at a villa party when she agreed to it.

“He made it sound like a walk in the park," she says. I literally thought a small package of, I obviously thought it was drugs, I definitely didn't think it was going to be anything big.”

The amount of money they were offering, she says, was £5,000.

Soon after, she found herself with Reid in an apartment in Mallorca and then on a plane to Lima, which she says, she believed was in Spain until she looked at the TV screen in front of her plane seat.

"I seen the huge arrow pointing towards South America and I felt panic. ‘Oh my God, I'm going to the jungle’.

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“(Geography) was one of the classes I didn't really pay much attention to,” she says.

When they arrived, an increasingly anxious McCollum and Reid had to take in the tourist highlights of Peru to look like they were backpacking, before the cartel stuffed their suitcases with kilos of uncut cocaine.

In the documentary, she describes the moment an armed officer put his hand on her shoulder before their bags were emptied.

“The guy started shouting ‘coca, coca, coca’ and all of sudden the place erupted, everyone was shouting and screaming. I just thought this is not happening, it’s not real life.”

Hoping to get a reduced sentence, she decided to claim she was forced to smuggle the drugs. She spent her first nights in a cell in a holding prison for drug traffickers she called “the dungeon”.

“We were handcuffed, and they cuffed our feet too. It was freezing and so dark. The bunk was a piece of concrete, I was crying all the time. I asked the guard to call my family, it was the worst phone call ever.

“My mum said, ‘I thought you were dead’. I said, ‘I’m in Peru, I’m in jail...’ and she said ‘what?' and the phone call ended.”

She later found out her mother collapsed after the call.

Transferred to Virgen de Fatima prison to await trial, she couldn’t sleep as cockroaches swarmed around her cell once the lights went out.

“I felt my skin was crawling. I went to see the prison doctor; I was really losing it.”

To avoid a maximum sentence of 15 years, she later confessed her involvement and was given a sentence of six years and eight months.

As part of the deal, she said she had to give up some details that might help them work out the town in Mallorca where the apartment of her cartel connection, Julio, was located.

“Much less than I knew of course, but just enough, I hoped, to show I was cooperating. I had given them enough to get my sentence reduced, now I just had to hope it wasn’t also enough to have me killed,” she said.

McCollum’s story of survival in the notorious Ancon II maximum security prison is one of the most eyebrow-raising parts of the series.

She said: “It felt like you were in this madhouse. One of the things I noticed about Ancon quite quickly, they were just so active sexually.”

But she was more worried about having a target on her back.

A cartel lawyer told the BBC documentary: “To kill a person is a business of two or three seconds. You can hire a sicario (Spanish for hitman) in a Peruvian jail.”

During her time behind bars, she told of witnessing a terrifying bloody attack on an inmate with a long needle.

“She just leaped across the table and started attacking this other girl, her blood and hair were everywhere.”

McCollum spent her first months in dread that the drug cartel might exact revenge or shut her up permanently behind bars.

“After the first few horrendous months there I did slowly start to drop my guard a bit...I kind of figured if they wanted me dead it would have happened by now.”

But her story of learning Spanish, forging friendships and running a beauty parlour behind bars shows how she transformed into an unlikely prison favourite.

“I learned the prison had their very own beauty salon, more like a few chairs and mirrors and a concrete room, but for me it was heaven."

Her interpreter explains how prisoners in Peru can make money from running their own businesses.

“I got a job and I would do different hair treatments, colouring and cutting, blow-dries, waxing, nails, massage. I had no real qualifications, I was winging it but I was good at it. I had a lot of clients."

She forged friendships with the inmates, many of whom were sucked into being drug mules, and got voted as a prison delegate by her cell block, which meant she was their representative with the authorities.

“I was the first English-speaking person ever to have that role. I really did try to improve things, I got water filters so we could all have clean water and a microwave, and we would have evenings where we have an hour of dancing."

From then on, she believes having her own money from the salon and the delegate role helped to move her paperwork and start her process for parole.

She added how she secured a quicker court date by paying a bribe and then made an impassioned plea for her freedom.

“I wanted them to understand how the mistakes I’d made in the past had given me this chance to learn and grow.”

Astonishingly, it led to her walking out of prison and into the arms of her mother after less than three years in jail, in 2016.

“We just hugged like freaks for ten minutes and the guards were like ‘go on now’.”

After her release, the documentary states that McCollum helped arrange for Reid to expedite her parole hearing so she too could return home to her family.

She looks at her prison time as a transformative experience.

“When you’re young you don’t know it all. 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.”

High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule will be shown on BBC Three on Saturday, July 3.

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