Squirming around in a cockroach-infested bunk, as a cacophony of “zoo-like” noises erupted outside her prison cell, Michaella McCollum knew she’d made a big mistake.
The drug mule, now 28, was serving time in a notorious Peru jail after being busted with £1.3million worth of cocaine alongside accomplice Melissa Reid.
Caught in 2013, the pair became known as the ‘Peru Two’ when they agreed to smuggle 11kg of the Class A drug through Lima airport as they travelled from Ibiza to Barcelona.
Now, a new BBC Three documentary, High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule – named after the newly updated version of McCollum’s memoir – lifts the lid on their incredible case and lays bear the torment of spending three years in Peru’s hellish prison system.
After 10 months inside Virgin de Fatima jail, McCollum was moved to the raucous Ancon 2, where she was shocked by the ferocity – and randiness – of the inmates.
Watching threesomes erupt in the middle of the day and navigating life alongside child killers, she was nonetheless able to emerge as ‘top dog’ – by flogging beauty products and underwear to desperate inmates.
Cockroach-infested beds and killer who fed child to husband
Making headlines across the world, the Peru Two were sentenced to six years and eight months behind bars – but served less than half of the time before a judge deported them in 2016.
Awaiting trial in Virgin de Fatima, McCollum explains she was left sobbing and felt she was “losing it” after months of failing to sleep in her South American jail cell, which was ridden with cockroaches.
“They would hide during the day, and when I would get into bed you would hear them crawling up,” she tells the documentary.
“I used to just cover myself with a sheet and hope they didn’t crawl on me. I was really paranoid because I felt like my skin was crawling all the time.
“I went to see the prison doctor and he basically said I was crazy because I felt like there was things on me but there wasn’t. Basically, I was really losing it.”
After being transferred to Ancon, she was horrified by the brutality of the inmates – on one occasion witnessing one attack another with a huge needle.
McCollum says she started to “drop her guard” after a few months, but found the majority of the people were “toxic”.
“The first thing I noticed about Ancon was it was just so manic and crazy and noisy, it sounded like a zoo,” she says.
“It just felt like you were in this madhouse. There was this woman… she had caught her husband having an affair and she had killed their child, and then she fed it to her husband in a stew.
She adds: “The way people would behave like that and the fact I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying just added to this whole confusing mad feel of the place where you never knew what was going to happen next.”
Randy inmates had threesomes in front of hundreds
Even more uncomfortable were the rather unusual ways her fellow lags decided to pass the time.
McCollum quickly noticed the prisoners were “so active sexually” and was shocked by the brazen flings chetos (gay inmates) engaged in under the eyes of the wardens.
Writing in her memoir, she explained: “With all the chetos around, I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover a couple of them going at it on one of the bunks.
“I didn’t know where to look but they barely acknowledged me.
“When you’re sharing a bedroom with 99 other people any right of privacy is out the window.
“You see each other shower, you see everyone peeing, what’s a bit of sex between you and your most intimate 200 mates?”
One day, while working in the prison workshop, she got a nudge from the girl next to her.
To her surprise, she saw two women going at it in front of hundreds of convicts.
“The girl on the other side of her was off the bench, her trousers and pants round her ankles,” she wrote.
“Just like that, right next to me, in front of hundreds of prying eyes. It was a weird situation.
“Every single person around the table carried on sewing and chatting or watching as if it was the most normal thing in the world.”
McCollum, from Dungannon in Ireland, eventually began to ignore the constant “moaning” that followed her around the prison.
Faced with the banality of prison life, she imagined it was just one way to “break up the day”.
“Maybe it was normal. Like scratching an itch. A couple of times a day you’d see two or three couples or triples at it,” she said.
Making £200 a week and flogging M&S undies
While she initially struggled to feel safe amongst the constant violence of Ancon, McCollum eventually rose to become “top dog” due to her Western connections.
In an interview with the Daily Record, she explained how she won over her neighbours by setting up a beauty salon.
Using money sent over by her family, she bought products including a massage table, hair straighteners and rollers – coining in £200 per week.
“I learned the prison had its very own beauty salon, more like a few chairs and mirrors and a concrete room, but for me it was heaven,” she said.
“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.”
Additionally, she also earned the trust of her jail mates by gifting them presents.
She said one Thai prisoner was bowled over after being given a pair of Marks & Spencer underwear that her mother had posted to her.
Lavished with love letters – and attention from stalkers
The Peru Two were lavished with gifts after their story earned them international fame.
McCollum claimed she was sent more than 500 love letters – as well as eight kittens named after serial killers by an admirer.
Nonetheless, her huge profile also allegedly led to unwelcome attention from prison staff, as well as warped stalkers on the outside.
The smuggler said a health worker inside the jail offered to marry her – but when she rejected him, he claimed she was the head of a drugs mafia in an attempt to keep her behind bars.
She told the Record: “He once told me that we could live happily ever after. He tried to propose.
“I rejected him and he sent letters to the court saying that I was the head of a drug mafia. He told me I would never see the light of day.”
She also said she received visits from two men claiming to be her husband – including an inmate from the male section of the prison.
“Having people create fantasy lives goes beyond creepy when they get other people believing it,” she said.
“When you’re a captive audience it’s terrifying.”