Community Magazine

Banged up Abroad

By Rubytuesday
The media in this country has been dominated by one story for the last 10 days and it's one that I have a lot of interest in
Michaela McCollum Connolly was a 20 year old from Co. Tyrone in northern Ireland
She was a dancer and part time nightclub host
She was spending the summer on the island of Ibiza

Last week Michaela seemed to go missing
Her family hadn't heard from her in 9 days, her phone was turned off and there was no acivity on her Facebook account at all
They launched a desperate search to find her
There was nothing for  days but then she appeared
In Peru
She had been arrested along with another girl called Melissa Reid 19, on suspicion of trying to smuggle cocaine out of the country
The drugs were hidden in food packaging in their luggage
They were arrested at the Air Europa desk as they prepared to board a flight to Madrid and then on to Palma in Majorca
They were carrying a total of 10.8kg between them worth about 1.7million euros

The girls protested their innocence and in an interview claimed that they had been forced to carry the drugs by a gang
They claimed that they didn't know that there were drugs in the food packages
At the moment they are being held in a police station but they will be moved to prison of they are found guilty
I happened to see a documentary this week about cocaine production is Peru
It is one of the biggest producers of cocaine in the world
Farmers grow the coca plant like it is just another crop like corn
It's a way for a farmer to provide his family with everything they need which they otherwise wouldn't be able to do
Stacey Dooley presented this documentary and it was very informative
Cocaine is big business in Peru
And along with the drugs come violence and gangs
The problem is so big that the police can't possibly keep up
Michaela and Melissa's court date is next week and they are expected to plead guilty
But they could be facing up to 25 years in prison most likely Santa Monica prison in Lima, a notorious women's prison
The prisons over there are nothing like the prisons here which are practically hotel room standard
The prisons in South America do not have sanitary conditions
They will be lucky if they get a bed, if not they will be sleeping on the floor in close proximity to dozens of other prisoners
The food is vile
The place is as miserable as can be
Hopefully they won't be targeted but they could well be given a hard time by other inmates
Imagine spending 25 years in these conditions
An Irish priest based in Peru called Fr Foley spoke about how the girls are in for a rough time once they transfer to prison
'Prisons in Peru are very very spartan' he explained
'Very often prisoners have to sleep on the floor, with only a piece of cardboard between them and the ground'
I can only imagine what these girls are going through right now
Whether they did this willingly or were coerced in to it, either way their lives are now changed for ever
It's all too easy to judge and question' What were they thinking?'
But they were young, naive and vulnerable and probably didn't fully realize the magnitude of what they were doing
This no excuse though
They committed a serious crime even if it was under duress
If you've ever seen Banged up Abroad, you will be familiar with these stories
It's terrifying what can happen after a lapse in judgement
Their lives will never be the same again
It must like a nightmare for them
They are all alone is a foreign country where they don't understand the language
I count my blessings today
As bad as things are they could be a whole lot worse and I am grateful for that

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