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Image / Agenda / Breaking Stories

Michaela McCollum on calling her mum to tell her she’s in jail in Peru


By Sarah Finnan
05th Jul 2021

Michaella McCollum / Instagram

Michaela McCollum on calling her mum to tell her she’s in jail in Peru

The subject of a new BBC documentary on the infamous “Peru Two”, Michaella McCollum recently opened up about what it was like to call her mum and tell her she was in jail.

Calling your mum to give her bad news is not something anyone ever wants to have to do. Telling her you’ve overwatered another house plant or completely fluffed up the lasagne recipe she gave you is tough enough, so we can only imagine how difficult it must be to deliver anything more serious. 

Finding herself with the unenviable task of having to do just that, Michaella McCollum has spoken out about what the aftermath of her arrest was really like – confirming all of our suspicions as true and describing the conversation she had with her mum from jail as “the worst phone call ever”. 

Becoming a household name alongside Melissa Reid, the duo made headlines back in 2013 after they were imprisoned in a South American jail for drugs trafficking. Attempting to smuggle €1.75 million worth of drugs out of Peru, McCollum – who is originally from Dungannon in Northern Ireland – was arrested at Lima airport with 11 kilos of cocaine concealed in her luggage. Now getting the chance to tell her side of the story, it comes as part of a new BBC documentary that premiered over the weekend. 

Introducing the five-episode series by detailing how she became one half of the Peru Two and the owner of “the world’s most infamous up-do”, McCollum went on to explain how exactly she got herself into “this mess”. Initially claiming that they were coerced into the whole thing, both women later agreed to a plea deal that would see their jail sentences reduced dramatically (from 15 years to just under half that at six years and eight months). 

However, the memories of her first night in a prison holding cell will stay with her forever, as will the phone call she made to her mum, who believed her dead at the time.“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,” she admitted.

“My mum said, ‘I thought you were dead’. I was like ‘How am I going to tell her where I am?’. Then I get around to tell her, ‘I’m in Peru, I’m in jail…’ and she was like, ‘What, what?’”. And then the phone call ended. Later learning that her mother had actually collapsed due to the shock of receiving such news, Michaella said that she thinks “she was just completely heartbroken”.

Constantly looking over her shoulder for fear that the cartel was still after her, those first few months were nothing short of “horrendous” according to Michaella. “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.”

Learning Spanish and getting a job at the prison beauty salon to keep her busy, she did manage to turn things around for herself and was even voted prison delegate by her cell block. The first English-speaking person to get the role, she credits both that and having some money from her salon job as the driving forces behind helping her get parole. Walking free after just three years, the first thing she did was hug her mum. “We just hugged like freaks for 10 minutes,” she remembered. 

Experts now believe that McCollum and Reid were set up as a ruse and were so were essentially always meant to be caught as it would detract police attention from other smugglers who were passing through the airport.“When people ask how I feel about it now, it feels like I’m thinking about a different person – I can’t relate to that person now. How was I like that? I just accepted things I didn’t feel comfortable with, but felt too shy to say anything about. Those three years in prison did so much to make me the person I am now, with the mindset and morals I have now,” McCollum said in an interview with BBC Three. 

You can watch the docuseries over on the BBC iPlayer now or catch it weekly on BBC One every Tuesday night at 10:35 pm.