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Michaella McCollum on being 'top dog' in Peru prison and how she 'bribed security' to send pictures home to Northern Ireland

By Claire Williamson

Published 21/08/2016

Convicted drug smuggler Michaella McCollum leaving her Dungannon home on Sunday morning
Convicted drug smuggler Michaella McCollum leaving her Dungannon home on Sunday morning
Convicted drug smuggler Michaella McCollum pictured leaving her Dungannon Home in Co Tyrone on Sunday Morning. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Michaella arriving back at Dublin airport on Saturday
Michaella and Melissa Reid shortly after their arrest in Peru
Convicted drug mule Michaella McCollum arriving into Dublin Aiport
Michaella McCollum talking on RTE in April
Melissa Reid (right) with Michaella McCollum in Peru 2013

Convicted drug smuggler Michaella McCollum has spoken out about how she rose to become "top dog" in her Peru prison cell block, running a business and bribing security to send pictures to her family.

The 23-year-old is currently back in Northern Ireland and was pictured arriving back into the country last week.

It is the first time the convicted drug smuggler had been home in over three years after she was arrested at Lima airport in August 2013.

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McCollum and Scotswoman Melissa Reid- nicknamed the Peru Two - were working in Ibiza for the summer when they travelled to South America three years ago.

They were arrested as they attempted to smuggle the cocaine in their suitcases. However, they denied knowing the luggage contained drugs, claiming they had been kidnapped and forced to become drug runners.

They later came clean and were jailed for six years and eight months.

McCollum was released from prison in Peru on March 31 after spending less than three years behind bars with Scot Melissa Reid.

Michaella McCollum Connolly in one of the Ibiza clubs where she worked as a dancer
Michaella McCollum Connolly in one of the Ibiza clubs where she worked as a dancer
Michaella McCollum Connolly in one of her club hostess outfits
Michaella McCollum Connolly with Brad Houston from England, pictured in Ibiza
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
First television interview of Michaella McCollum Connolly after being released on parole from a Peruvian prison
Michaella McCollum Connolly, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing, in Lima, Peru (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)
Michaella McCollum Connolly, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing in Lima, Peru, clutching the book 'Secrets About Life Every Woman Should Know: Ten principles for spiritual and emotional fulfillment' (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)
Michaella McCollum Connolly arrives to court for her sentencing in Callao, Peru (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum, both handcuffed, arrive for a court hearing in Lima, Peru (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)
Michaella McCollum Connolly, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing, in Lima, Peru (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)
Michaella McCollum, left, and Melissa Reid listen to a translator during their hearing at court in Callao, Peru (AP)
Police escort Melissa Reid, front, and Michaella McCollum to a hearing in Lima, Peru (AP)
Police escort Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid from the National Police anti-drug headquarters in Peru (AP)
Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) and friend Melissa Reid in the airport after they were arrested
Michaella McCollum Connolly with rugby star Tommy Bowe while doing promotional work at an official Ulster Rugby event
Santa Monica female prison in Peru
SECRET STASH: The drugs found in food packs in the girls’ luggage
CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Michaella and Melissa caught on CCTV loading bags into a car in Peru
Michaella McCollum, centre, and Melissa Reid leave the court after being sentenced in Peru.
Lawyer Peter Madden, who represents Michaella McCollum, has claimed his client has suffered from a lack of food.
Belfast solicitor Peter Madden said Michaella McCollum and co-accused Melissa Reid have been well treated by the authorities
Michaella McCollum, right, and Melissa Reid, left, were jailed in Peru last year after they admitted trying to smuggle cocaine worth 1.5 million pounds from Peru to Spain (AP)
Michaella McCollum's mother Norah McCollum and sister Samantha McCollum vist the Peru prison
Michaella McCollum Connolly with reality TV star Mark Wright at a promotional night hosted by Belfast's M Club

In an interview with the Daily Mail, McCollum said she hopes her story will be a warning to others - and that they won't end up in the situation she did.

"I thought it was totally innocent just experimenting with drugs on holiday and look where it put me", she said.

The Dungannon woman revealed how she secretly took pictures on a mobile phone she got by bribing a prison guard to send home to her family to reassure them she was coping with prison life.

In one picture she is seen blowing out candles on a cake, alongside other inmates, as they celebrate her 22nd birthday.

She told how she rose to "top tog" in her block being elected "general co-ordinator" and also ran a beauty salon offering prisoners treatments which she made about £230 a week from - while also taking part in dance competitions against rival blocks.

The Mail reports she used the money she made to bribe a security guard to get her a mobile phone to send pictures to her family.

But she said while the photos appear in stark contrast to the realities of prison life she said "crying and sulking" every day wasn't going to make a difference.

She told how she shared a cell with seven other inmates including Melissa Reid, slept on concrete bunks and the toilet was a hole in the floor.

She said: "We would prepare ourselves for a long time because I was taking them pictures to send to my family, so obviously I wanted to look as good as possible.

"Those days the pictures were taken, there was always an event or something happening.

"Weirdly, I look kind of happy. You crying and sulking every day, that’s not going to make any difference. Of course you do have laughs in there, you do have sometimes a good time.

"You can make fun and obviously that helps pass the time even more. Especially when there’s a birthday party – that’s just an excuse for everybody to get together and listen to music and to dance."

Michaella also claims she received over 500 love letters while she was in prison - and a marriage proposal.

She claimed a married prison psychologist told her they could "live happily ever after".

“He tried to propose. Once I rejected him he sent letters to the court saying I was the head of a drug mafia. He told me I would never see the light of day", she told the Daily Mirror.

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