Tabitha Ritchie was arrested in Columbia in September 2013 while trying to board an Air Canada flight to Toronto. Ritchie is one of the subjects of the new episode of National Geographic’s Locked Up Abroad “Smuggler Moms” episode. The episode will explore what it was like for mothers who served prison sentences in foreign countries knowing they had children at home.
Ritchie had two kilos of cocaine in a false belly made of latex taped to her body. Thanks to a lawyer and a police officer friend she made, Ritchie was able to serve her sentence under house arrest with a host family rather than serve all four years in prison.
She stayed in the house with a family of five on the second floor of a church. The 28-year-old mother and student would not see her sons for years.
Here’s what you should know about Ritchie:
1. She Was Also Facing Charges in Canada
As of September 2013, Ritchie was being charged in London alongside her ex-boyfriend for three offenses. The offenses included possession of a shotgun without a license, careless storage of ammo and having a loaded, restricted firearm.
With Ritchie being detained in South America at the time, her lawyer was not able to present the argument he had prepared. He told the court at the time that she had “no chance of returning in the foreseeable future.”
Her then-boyfriend Trevor Hernandez, who was 22 years old at the time, showed up in court with a separate lawyer. He was anxious to move forward with his case at the time even though Ritchie hadn’t shown up to court.
The charges against Ritchie were later withdrawn due to lack of evidence.
2. Ritchie Started a Petition Asking to Be Moved To Canada
In 2014, Ritchie started petitions asking to be returned to Canada to serve out the rest of her sentence. She also contacted the press in order to get her story out as much as possible.
“I just really want to be home so I can rehabilitate myself better and start anew, to leave this behind me and move forward,” she told QMI Agency in an email.
In the change.org petition she filed, which received 174 signatures, Ritchie said that though she did not traffic the drugs willingly, she was going to serve her sentence. She wanted, however, to be able to serve that sentence in Canada rather than in Columbia.
“I made a very important promise to my two sons: I PROMISED I would do anything and everything to return home to them,” she wrote. “To be the MOM they need and deserve! I want and plan on keeping my PROMISE!!! To do this I need all your help!!”
3. She Served a Four-Year Sentence
Ritchie was on vacation when her friends told her that she’d be smuggling drugs back home. They brought in a fake pregnant belly and placed two packages of drugs inside it before taping it onto her body.
She said that every time she took a breath with the belly on, it hurt since everything was so tight. She was meant to fly to Canada and deliver the drugs there. When she was caught inside the airport with 2 kg of cocaine, she was arrested and locked up in Columbia’s El Buen Pastor prison.
The mother took a plea bargain after eight months in prison. She lived under house arrest with families for the next two years before being granted parole. She spent her time cleaning, organizing, watching TV and communicating with her family via Skype.
4. Ritchie Has Two Sons and a Daughter
At the time of her arrest, Ritchie had two children. By the time she would have returned home in September 2017, her sons would be 13 and seven years old. Jared is the oldest; her youngest is named Nathan.
Ritchie was granted parole in June 2016, but she had to stay in Columbia until that parole ended in September 2017. During the time in between, she met and got engaged to Oscar, who was 24 at the time. Together, they had a daughter and planned to return to Ontario at the end of her parole.
As of 2017, Ritchie was still in Columbia, but there have been no updates more recently than that.
5. She Thought Her Vacation Was To Get Away From Stress
Ritchie traveled to Columbia with two men that she thought were her friends. They had offered her a no-strings vacation that would allow her to escape stress at home. She was a mother and a university student at the time, so she was always busy. She had also been facing the aforementioned firearm charges alongside her ex-boyfriend.
The first two weeks of her vacation went well, but then two days before her return, everything changed. She traveled to Cucuta, a city near the Venezuelan border, along with one of her companions. There, she was told she couldn’t leave unless she took the cocaine back to Canada.
Ritchie told QMI Agency that she refused. After her refusal, she was held hostage by five men. She said she was attacked, starved and told she could be forced into prostitution if she stayed in Columbia.
She tried to get out of her situation when she got to the airport as well. She went into the bathroom and tried to rip off the fake belly, but it had been taped on too tightly.
Locked Up Abroad “Smuggler Moms” airs Wednesday, Feb 5, 2020 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic channel.