Convicted drug mule Tabitha Ritchie knows exactly what Cassie Sainsbury is going through.
In 2013, the Canadian mother of two was arrested at Bogotá’s international airport with 2kg of cocaine hidden inside a prosthetic pregnant belly.
Within days, the 28 year old, who said she had been forced to smuggle the drugs, was locked up in Colombia’s El Buen Pastor prison—the same prison where Sainsbury is now incarcerated. South Australian Sainsbury, 22, was arrested at Bogotá airport on April 12 after 5.8kg of cocaine was allegedly found in her luggage.
“There is very little room, like the size of a bathroom," Ritchie tells WHO of the cell she shared with two to three women. "It had two beds, and a third bed which I set up [each night]. I slept on the only available space on the floor.”
The cell was in patio five of the prison, where Sainsbury is also imprisoned.
“Patio five had 500 women,” she says. "It is so loud you can lose your hearing."
Due to the size of the prison population, the day starts early. “If you want breakfast you get up at 2.30 AM for 3 AM breakfast,” says Ritchie. "I’d wake up at 2 AM to shower and beat the line [for the bathroom]."
There are hidden romances in the prison (relationships are not allowed) and sometimes violence. “I heard a fight from another patio, which was really horrible,” she says. “It was actually guards who were hitting inmates.”
Ritchie spent eight months in the prison before she was offered a plea deal. She warns Sainsbury to do the same. “Cassie is going to have to understand that because the drugs were in her possession, not a lot can be done to prove they weren’t hers,” says Ritchie, who has two children living with her mother in Ontario, Canada (she has recently had a third child with fiancé Oscar, who she met while under house arrest). “If she gets a decent plea bargain, take it.”
Which is exactly what Ritchie did. Though she said she was innocent, claiming she had been forced to smuggle the drugs by men who had raped her and threatened her life, Ritchie pled guilty after spending eight months in Buen Pastor and was released under house arrest in 2014.
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