I was a total tree-hugging hippy. I wanted to save the world and I ended up jumping on the mafia train. I take responsibility. I know what I did was wrong.
This is how I got here.
I went through the most full-on trip in under a year. My son had died. I got raped. I got raped a couple of times in Africa as well, and I found out I had HIV. All in under the space of a year. That’s the most full-on stuff that can happen to you; of course I could easily make the worst decision of my life.
I left home when I was 16. I always knew that a normal life wasn’t gonna be my life. I chose life as my teacher.
I had a baby at 18. I always had visions as a child that I would be a young mum, but I never thought that my son would die. I breastfed Shamaya for two and a half years, everything organic. He really was an angel. I woke up every morning to his beautiful smile and his shiny eyes, feeling so blessed that I knew him. I tried so hard to make everything beautiful and to protect him.
God had another plan. After I had weaned him, his father took him for two months to visit his grandparents. He died one week before he turned three years old. I walked into the room and he looked like a porcelain doll. Like ‘is this a joke? Is this a doll? What the hell is going on. This isn’t even real. How can this be real? He’s so beautiful, this isn’t even him’.
I was screaming I was so angry at God, and I was so angry that this had happened. It completely shattered me. Spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically even, my whole being shattered into a billion pieces.
I was sexually abused in my childhood. I had always so much anger. Me, alone, my world was art and colours and music and all the things beautiful inside of me. And then outside of that I was angry, I was angry at authority. I was a little naughty at school. As a teenager no one ever stopped and asked me, ‘What’s wrong with you, why are you so angry?’ No one ever asked me. No one ever stopped to say, ‘Hey, something’s not right with this girl, how can she be talented and so good at all these things but then she’s got this full-on attitude problem?’ There’s a reason why people have an attitude problem, there’s a reason why people are hurting. There’s a reason why people are angry. It doesn’t just come from nowhere.
I was living in this small town on the NSW north coast when my son died, and I needed to leave. I couldn’t handle being in a small town with everyone whispering, looking at me, ‘Oh, that’s the girl whose kid died.’ And I’d always been a runner anyway; I had this since I left home, non-stop moving around. So I went again. Running again.
I went down to Melbourne. Ever since I was a kid I always wanted to really help in Africa. I would watch those ads, 'just for one dollar a day', and be in tears, 'Mum, we have to help them'. It would break my heart. So I really wanted to go to Africa. I arranged some music gigs, some fundraisers, but three days before a concert I was raped, by an African. That should have been a warning, right? But I continued on.
It was a date rape situation, not a grab me off the street, beat me, rape me thing. Thank God that’s never happened. I met some Africans on the train, and because I was all obsessed with Africa, they invited me back to their place. I was already a floater anyway, always living in the moment, crashing out at people’s places and stuff. Always open to whatever was going on. It wasn’t actually the ones I met who raped me, it was another guy I met at the house who just wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Other things had happened to me as a teenager, but it was the first time as a woman that that had happened to me. For a while I felt powerless and didn’t want anyone to look at me. But my friends really tried to help me. A good friend of mine came to stay with me and he said, ‘Don’t let him steal your power, sister'.
I still went to Africa. First of all I went to Europe to visit my ex-boyfriend who was like a father for a little bit of time to my son. I went to Mozambique. My bag got stolen along with my passport, everything. I also had malaria. Most normal people take malaria pills and stuff but I didn’t do that because I was thinking God would protect me. My guitar had a little zip bag and in there was everything special to me. It got lost. All my photos of my son. Every single thing precious to me was lost as soon as I arrived in Africa.
There's no Australian consul in Mozambique so I had to go to South Africa. It took three months to get my passport so I hitch-hiked around South Africa three times while I was waiting. A lot happened. I was incredibly naive. I was so disgustingly naive. Even though there were huge signs everywhere with HIV/AIDS, I still did not know that you could be beautiful and be sick. I remembered the movie Philadelphia with Tom Hanks, where he’s got scabs all over his face. I always imagined that if you’re sick with something that you would look totally messed up. I did not know it was possible to look completely beautiful and be sick.
My greatest weakness is always falling in love. I was with the Rastafarian community, with a guy there, and I got really sick. I got a chronic, chronic fever so bad, three weeks straight. I was going blind. I could not see.
I was staying with some artist boys in Pretoria and I was so sick I couldn’t be out and about meeting people when I got a vision. I always followed my visions, even if they told me to hitchhike to the other side of the country in the middle of the night. I had this vision to go to this particular restaurant I would often go to. I went there and there was only one Nigerian guy and one girl sitting together at a table. I’m sitting there and he comes over to me and he goes, ‘So you look like you like to travel'. I had all my dreads, I had a little hippy skirt on. I said, 'Yeah, I like to travel'. He goes, straight up, ‘I’m in the business of trafficking gold, diamonds, cocaine and marijuana.’ I went, 'Whoa, whoa'. I’d never even heard of that in my life. Sure I’d heard from whatever movies that drugs come from one place to the other in big ships or whatever.
He goes, 'If you wanna work for me I’ll take care of you. I feel you need some help’. Because I had just been asking for some money it seemed like destiny. Literally 20 minutes later I’m getting offered this job, right? I said no to everything but maybe the marijuana because I smoked marijuana before. That’s how it all started. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m gonna be looking after you'. But I said, ‘I’m still waiting for my passport'. Through him I met a good friend, he was my real bro. And he helped me go to the hospital and stuff because I was really sick. I was really sick as a child, always at the hospital, at the doctor’s. When I went real hippy it was all, don’t want to see doctors, don’t want to see hospitals, don’t want Western medication. I was just thinking it would pass, whatever this fever was. But it wouldn’t go away. I was in a supermarket with this bro, and I literally went blind. I called him: ‘Bro you need to take me to the hospital, man. There’s something really wrong. It’s not going, just getting worse'.
They tested me for malaria because I had just been in Mozambique and they gave me some medicines and said to come back when my results were ready. I went back and they told my I’d had malaria but that it was now gone. I said to the woman, ‘What the hell is wrong with me, man? I’m dying of this fever, something’s wrong with me.’ She told me I should be tested for HIV. As soon as she said it, it was like I knew. I knew that I had it. I went to get tested and I knew. Every step I was taking it was, ‘If you do this, you cannot turn back. But you need to know. You need to know'.
They do that little prick test and the result comes up. The nurses did it twice, ‘just in case’, as if it was unbelievable. And I was thinking, 'You can’t believe that a pretty white girl’s got AIDS?' Even the guy who gave me my results asked to marry me. He grabbed my hand and said, 'Don’t worry, I will marry you, take care of you.' I’m like, ‘Don’t even touch me, I just found out that I have AIDS. What are you doing?’
Again, that really shattered me. I believed that God would protect me from something like that. But I pushed everything to the utmost extreme, I pushed every boundary all the way. I put it to the test. Too far. It takes six months to show in a test and it was exactly six months after I’d got raped by that guy [Sunday Night: HIV typically shows up in a blood test withint three months of transmission]. And my boyfriends before that didn’t have it. So I know it came from that guy.
That night I shaved my dreads and burned all my clothes. I was just done. In a way now I see subconsciously I lost hope in my life. I was thinking, 'What else can happen to me?’ I felt the worst had already happened. But that is not true. So many more bad things can happen. I was all messed up.
Then the Nigerian guy told me, ‘Look, you are gonna get paid three times the amount. It’s the same risk. If you take the cocaine you get more money.’ And at that point I was, ‘Whatever, just get me out of South Africa. I don’t want to be here anymore. I need to leave now.’ And so that’s how I accepted it. I jumped on this train that just went so fast, so far, that I didn’t even realise that I got on it. In the space of six months of my son dying. Even the travel was really full-on because it really blows your mind when you see so much poverty. Finding out that I had HIV, you can’t imagine how messed up I was. Who wouldn’t be?
But in reflection I can see my whole life was slowly on the path of destruction. Getting on that train was the final step. And it did not stop until I got here to gaol in Peru. It was running, running, running, running from everything. All my pain, all my experience, everything.
I never succeeded in doing any drug running. These first people I worked with were Nigerians. The majority of the girls here in the prison got involved with Nigerians. I’m not racist but I’m just saying they have a huge mafia. They are responsible for the majority of the girls that are here. They sent me to French Guiana, to the wrong place. Then I had to go to Venezuela. It was their big mission. It’s really difficult to get into Venezuela from elsewhere in South America. Easy from Miami or Europe or whatever but it’s really difficult otherwise, with no direct planes.
So I went around through the Caribbean, on this huge mission to try and get there. There were some problems because they had told me not to tell anybody I had HIV. But I told this guy, because we had a connection. He wanted to be with me but I wanted to tell him. Then he was mad that they told me not to tell. Then there was a trust issue. No one could trust each other. Basically they just left me in Venezuela. Cut their phones on me. At this point there was no cocaine. I hadn’t picked anything up yet.
Luckily for me I knew how to travel with no money and stuff, knew how to look after myself. There's
a huge Nigerian mafia there in Caracas. I met them all. That same day I got offered another job. Then again this guy was just all the time trying to have sex with me and I didn’t want to have sex with him. So I’m, like, 'Whatever, fine, I don’t want to work with you because you won’t respect me. I don’t want to have sex with you. Punta. So let it drop, stop trying. You’re creating the problem, not me'. I said it was better if we had nothing to do with each other.
Three seconds later I met some other people, from Guiana. From there I went back to the Caribbean. They got me to meet Jamaicans. Again everything was this waiting process. They have to wait until everything is perfect for things to pass. So I was waiting, waiting.
There was again always a problem with some guy who was just wouldn't respect me. And I told them to not let this guy come over to this place because I didn't want this guy trying to have sex with me. 'If I'm gonna be working with you, respect that I don't want this guy here.' But they dropped him over. I was alone in the place, in the shower. He just came in and opened up the shower curtain on me. I just packed up my guitar and hitch-hiked away.
Even the first guy that picked me up was offering me to get involved with drugs. Everybody that you meet is in the mafia somehow. I went back to an island off Venezuela and then I got involved with Columbians. From there they sent me to Colombia, again waiting, nothing happened. And they called and said, ‘It can't go through, you have to come back to Venezuela'. It was really, really, really crazy. I didn't really know how to get off the train. I went to nearly 22 countries and it just never happened. In such a small time, in a year.
So this time, when I came to gaol. Two other people that I knew had just passed, had just trafficked, from Peru. And so the guy was saying, 'Finally everything is happening now'. They wait, they pay all the cops, they pay everybody. Everything has to be in position so these things take time. So he goes, 'Finally everything is good. Please'. He had been one of the only people that respected me as a woman, never tried to have sex with me, treated me like a daughter, looked after me good. I felt I owed him after all that time and all that money that he'd spent on me while I was waiting and he knew that I was sick and he was taking care of me. I owed him to at least try. He'd spent 50 grand on me. So I did it.
He said it was supposed to be nine to 12 kilos of cocaine. He was working with Peruvians. I didn't see the bag until I got dropped off at the airport. The taxi man - everyone's in on it - opened up the boot and I saw this huge bag. At the airport, so I couldn't make a scene.
As soon as I saw that bag I just thought straight away, 'This bag's full of cocaine'. It was a very, very insane moment. And trust me, you relive this moment a million times when you come in here. Nearly all the girls in here have that intuition. Even people that are innocent felt something wrong. But they didn't follow their intuition.
He put it on the trolley so I never felt the weight. When time came to put it on the scales, I couldn't even pick it up. 48 kilos, the bag weighed. They set me up. Why'd they make the bag so heavy? They could have put 18 kilos in a small bag and I could have picked it up.
I passed the check-in and everything, and then the guy came up to me and asked to see my passport. I gave him my passport, because other times, a lot of the people in the airports working are involved in it. Sometimes they will come and ask you to come with them and they will just put you straight through to the plane. So I was wondering if this was going to be one of those guys. I went with him and they said, 'Oh, is this your bag?' And I didn't know there were five undercover cops standing right there where I checked in.
There was a code lock. They asked me to open the bag but I didn't know the code. This other guy stabbed the bag. Out came the spike and there was cocaine on it. They opened the bag. Inside there was this big doona, all these track pants, all these clothes that would be just perfect for gaol at winter time.
At first it was kind of a dream. I even said, 'You can take the bag, I don't even want it. Just let me go, you don't understand,’ because finally the guy had helped me with the money to go home. In that moment I was just thinking, 'No you don't understand, I'm finally going home'. It had been two years. I didn't get it in my head that I was going to gaol. All I could think was that I was going home, because in two weeks it was the two-year anniversary of my son's death.
There were three people caught that night. There was another girl. This is something really important I want to talk about because a lot of people get put in gaol because of these things. Women that meet people on the internet and get offered a free trip to South America. These girls accept it and then when they're here, they're, 'Oh, can you take this parcel to my friend?'
Clothes, anything, even the actual bag can be made of cocaine. And you would not know. They can make it out of anything. So many people get busted with stuff and they had no idea. It can be medicines, they've even got the docket from the health shop, a proper liquid medicine, shampoos, whatever, This particular she had some type of a health food powder, a special malt health powder drink or whatever. Inside there was cocaine. She had no idea.
I have a 14-year sentence. You can't even believe it's really a courtroom when you first go there. It's a cement slab, a desk and everyone's just sitting there in a small space. And the Fiscal man, who gives the opinionation, he's asleep, snoring, fully asleep. And then they wake him up, pass him my papers – ‘Oh, 17 years’.
He didn't even read my case. He just said boom, 17 years. Here the law is if you have over ten kilos you have what's called 297 which means no benefit. Whereas with benefit you do a third of your sentence inside and another third outside, signing a parole-type thing. Drug traffickers can apply for a commutation, through the Ministry of Justice. For 297, normally they'll cut the sentence in half. I can't apply until I have four years (Bronwyn's lawyer is now applying for early release on the grounds of her medical condition).
Because I have HIV there's a thing called a humanitarian pardon. The Ministry of Justice told me to hurry and accept my sentence straightaway so they can give me my freedom. So I accepted even though everything, my whole being was saying, 'Do not accept this sentence, do not accept'. Can you imagine saying yes to a 17-year sentence when you're 23 years old?
When I came here it was no more running. These last three-and-a-half years I've spent all this time facing all my stuff, processing everything. Being able to heal from everything that happened - because you can't run away. Some people do even here. They pass their time just talking gossip, instead of facing their problems. Most foreigners in the 296, they get a 6.8 sentence, six years eight months. But they only spend two years here. So I think when you only have two years, I mean it’s a good kick up the ass but it’s just a slap on the wrist really for what you did. If you don’t change your life in two years you’re not going to change.
I know that life is so special, even here. I have a lot of hard things to deal with. It’s very heavy to have such a strong sentence and not know when you can actually leave. So many times I really thought I was going to die. I was so sick. I mean now I have AIDS but I’m on the meds and that’s getting better. I’m constantly food poisoned every single day. I’ve had diarrhoea for nearly four years. I’m starving all the time. You've got to try and balance out eating food because you’re hungry and then starving because you can’t handle getting the food poisoning, so everything’s a catch 22.
But every single day I still count my blessings. I love life. There are negative things that happen here and there are also good things too. We get to be outside - I thank God for that every day because if I was in 24-hour lockdown with no trees or anything I would go insane. Here there's a really low suicide rate compared to other gaols that are 23-hour lockdown. I think that people that make those jails and support those gaols, they’re more evil than anyone in that gaol.
Really serious stuff happens here all the time. People are sleeping on the floor like dogs. People are food poisoned all the time. People die. The doctors won’t even give prescriptions because they are so racist to foreigners. The most recent deaths are from people that have diabetes. They know they have diabetes and don’t give them insulin and they don’t take them to the hospital so they die. And then they tell the press, ‘Oh we didn’t know, we didn’t know that she had diabetes.’ One of my friends from Canada has diabetes and she has the little sugar testers. They have one but do you think they ever use it? No, they ask her to borrow hers because they don’t want to use their own stuff. They called my friend down the day before the person died to check her sugars and my friend was saying, 'yeah you need to give her insulin, her sugars are through the roof she is going to die unless you give her insulin'. The next day she died. They didn’t give her insulin and then they told the press, ‘We didn’t know she had diabetes’.
Everyone’s a rat. It’s observation camp. Everything that you do is written down and the people that keep those files can stop your freedom. Some people are months and years over time. Some of the psychologists, if they just don’t like you, you're screwed. They won’t even give you an informa when you need an informa for your freedom. Because they have a different moral value to you. They don’t like lesbianism, even some ladies don’t like it if you smoke or whatever or if they have heard some rumour about you. If someone doesn’t like you they can just run and tell a lie and they are going to believe that over you. We’re talking grown women here. I can’t believe it sometimes, the things that I’ve seen. Grown women are chucking tantrums over the stupidest things. We’re all in gaol, man. Don't we have enough problems? We have to live together, not against one another.
People fight over the stupidest things, two minutes for the microwave. Everyone’s yelling and screaming at each other. How many years have you been here? You can’t wait five minutes? When you go to the kiosk they’ll put their boobs up on your back and reach over you. Personal space? They don’t know about space.
Becoming Christian I've been able to understand why I did everything, why all the things happened to me. Seeing why we do the things that we do. But my life continues and life is beautiful. What is inside of me is free and no one can ever stop or take away my mind or my heart or my soul. So many people have their freedom and they are not free, they create a gaol of society. They are in bad relationships, they hate their life, they sit around and whinge and whine and create so many messed up situations. I was someone I thought really embraced freedom, the way I was travelling in the moment. Now I’m more free than I was when I was free.
I was always falling in love. I think it’s just because I have a really big heart. I’m still working on this weakness. I fell in love everywhere all over the world. On reflection really it was running as well. I met amazing people I did fall in love with, but it’s like that little poem about butterflies: ‘Love is a butterfly. It goes where it pleases and pleases where it goes’. I was never ready to stay even if I loved them totally. I still love everyone I’ve ever loved and I love all my friends and I pray for everyone that I love all the time. Breaking hearts? Unfortunately it’s true. I’m really working on never doing that again. That ain’t a joke.
What gives me joy is that I can be above it. If you don’t forgive every single day of your life the people that you live with - I mean I have to live with 1000 women and you think that’s easy? If you don’t have love in your heart you will be so angry all the time. I’m so grateful that I’ve learnt these things even though it’s been an intense way to learn.
Do I feel forgotten by the outside world? Sometimes. I still have a lot of contact. I write a hello everyone email through my mum. She's the best. Sometimes people take longer to reply or some people don’t write. In the first years you get a lot of email from everybody that cares about you but it slowly dwindles down. Here you really learn who is real in your life who are your real friends. Real friendship is there when things are good and when things are bad.
It’s been nearly six years since I’ve seen my mum. I just want to give her a big hug. I talk to her on the phone all the time and I write to her. I guess through this process of being here I had to forgive everybody in my past and also I had to forgive myself for everything that I have done wrong. I was a wild kid. Sure, not all of her grey hairs are my fault but I really put her through a trip. If I’m sad I can call her. I try not to talk to her too much when I’m sad. I always to talk to her when I’m good. I don’t want her to worry about me. She knows that I’m always food poisoned, that there’s always stuff going on. I talk to her about my physical stuff going on but there have been times when I have been really emotional and I really needed to talk to her and for her to know what’s going on for me. It was really huge for me to have to forgive myself for destroying my life. I suffer the consequences from my decisions. I did this to me, not somebody else.
I would love to see her. All the time people’s mothers die, loved ones die and you hear the people screaming on the phone. That's the biggest fear in here. One Spanish lady recently had her kid died and I told her about my son and gave her love and made an effort to see how she was doing. To have to deal with the death of a loved one in here with thousands of people around all the time. They just drag the people off to the clinic and give them injections to calm them down. That's really, really wrong. They have to give them a moment to process it, they can’t just fill them with drugs.
I’ve had a few good friends here and they’ve left. My first best friend I met on the bus on the way here. She had gone to court. Her story is pretty famous, she’s Sarah Jackson from London. They’ve done a Banged up Abroad on her. She was my big sister. I totally cried when she left. And when my other good friend from South Africa left I cried. I was in the first year. When your close friends leave it’s sad but you’re so happy for them that they get their freedom. It takes a while to get used to the fact that they are not here. They were so special, angels here for me in this crazy place. I did the wrong thing. I deserve to be here. But all the beautiful people that don’t deserve to be here, I mean that just breaks my heart. It’s terrible.
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