Australia's unknown Schapelle
August 5, 2012REPORTER: Mike Willesee
PRODUCER: Mick O’Donnell
In a crowded prison in Peru, a young Australian sits singing songs about freedom.
27-year-old Bronwyn Kay Atheron is four years into a 14-year sentence for drug trafficking after she was busted at Lima airport with a suitcase full of cocaine.
Peru has overtaken Colombia as the number one exporter of cocaine worldwide. Much of the cocaine that comes into the United States, Europe and now Australia is being directly attributed to the mountains of Peru.
Sunday Night travelled to Lima’s Santa Monica Prison to meet this young Australian woman whose troubled life drew her into the deadly international drug trade.
Unlike Schapelle Corby’s much publicised plight, Bronwyn’s story has never been told. In interviews in prison with Sunday Night’s Mike Willesee, Bronwyn told of the cartel who hired her, set her up, then betrayed her. She was a drug mule sacrificed so a more lucrative shipment could be smuggled through safely.
Born in Cowra, Central NSW, Bronwyn said she suffered sexual abuse as a child and left home at the age of 16. A year later she gave birth to a baby boy called Shamaya.
”He really was an angel. I breast fed him two and a half years and I woke up every morning to his beautiful smile and his shiny eyes,” she said.
While in the care of his father, Bronwyn’s then-three-year-old son suffered a constricted bowel and died suddenly.
“I’m not saying that everyone that has bad things happen to them are going to end up in jail, but it’s like I was on the path of destruction because I was messed up and I was broken and because I needed love,” she told Willesee.
A few months later Bronwyn was raped. Six months after that she was diagnosed with HIV.
“I lost hope in my life…What more bad can actually happen to me? I was all messed up.”
In a bid to escape her problems, Bronwyn left Australia, and in a café in Pretoria, South Africa, she was befriended by members of a Nigerian drug syndicate.
“In under a year my son had died, I got raped and found out I had HIV. That’s the most full-on stuff that can happen to you; of course I could easily make the worst decision of my life.”
In the overcrowded prison Bronwyn shares a tiny cell measuring three metres square with three other women. During one of Sunday Night’s visits, we watched her sing as part of a choir in the courtyard, alongside best friend Deidre – a Canadian also jailed for cocaine smuggling.
Bronwyn looked well enough and put on a brave front, but her 14-year jail term may be a death sentence because of difficulties getting access to the HIV medications she needs to stay healthy.
Sunday Night put Bronwyn in touch with Dr Emilia Fishman, a highly regarded lawyer who’s now appealing for clemency and is confident she can at least secure a reduction of her sentence.
Sadly, Bronwyn’s story is not unique. Each year, hundreds of foreigners are arrested in Peru for drug offences. In January this year an Australian man died at Lima Airport when cocaine leaked in his stomach.