|Baby-faced female European drug mules lament life of crime in Peruvian jail
They look like earnest, clean-cut exchange students but they are actually inmates in a desert prison, a long way from home in Europe.
Be they from Italy, Spain or the Netherlands, they share the same story: getting caught trying to smuggle cocaine out of Peru as so-called mules, seeking the fast and easy money of drug trafficking.
Two more suspected young British drug mules Melissa Reid, 19, from Scotland and Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, from Ireland (pictured) are in custody in Peru after being arrested with 11 kilos of cocaine, worth an estimated US$2.3 million, hidden in food packets in their luggage, AFP reports.
For convicted European women, home is a newly built prison called Ancon II in a desert region along Peru's Pacific coast.
Karen, a 21 year-old Dutch woman, shares her windowless cell with seven other women her age.
Karen was 18 when she was caught at Lima airport trying to leave for Amsterdam with drugs. “It was my first trip as a mule, and I thought it would be easy. Others did it with no problem,'' she said.
“I was carrying five kilos of cocaine, and the police stole half of it,'' she told AFP.
The women of Ancon admit wrongdoing.
Isabel, a 25-year-old Spaniard, sits on a bunk bed in a cell decorated with photos of fashion models cut out from newspapers.
“Like just about all of us here, I was arrested as a mule,'' the Madrid native says. She has a baby face marked with piercings. Her sentence: six years and eight months, the average for drug smuggling.
“I had two kilos of cocaine in a bag with a fake bottom,'' she said. “I think someone gave me away. For every one person who is caught, there are five others who make it through. That's how it works here.'' She was to have earned 10,000 euros.
The prison opened three years ago and is located 50 kilometers north of Lima.
Since 2012, 248 foreigners carrying illegal drugs have been arrested at Lima's international airport.
The 50-odd foreign women held at Ancon II are mostly European.
Paola, a 25-year-old Italian, said it was her addiction to cocaine that led her to travel to Peru. “I came to party,'' she admits. She was arrested 17 months ago at a hotel and has not yet stood trial.
Dennis Facoli, a prison official, explains that convicts are encouraged to work or study.
He gives a tour of several workshops in which the women learn hairdressing, dressmaking, cooking or how to make jewelry.
Marisa Salvador, a teacher, said the inmates can sell the products to visitors.
Isabel and Paola run the library in their wing. They say crime stories are particularly popular.