Ashley Smith was a happy, quiet child who transformed into an angry, disruptive teenager in high school, her adoptive mother testified Wednesday.

Coralee Smith, who appeared before an inquest into Smith’s prison death, said her daughter was independent, “smiling and happy” most of her life. But as she grew older, she began acting out in school and was expelled for disruptive behaviour in Grade 9.

Smith, 19, died in October 2007 when she strangled herself in her cell at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. Guards watched, having received orders not to enter her cell unless she stopped breathing.

The coroner’s inquest has already heard that Smith was a troubled teenager, and her problems with law enforcement began when she was first arrested for assault at age 13. She was sent to jail at 15 for throwing crab apples at a postal worker in her hometown of Moncton, N.B.

Smith’s mother said Wednesday that her daughter didn’t seem to have any troubles until about Grade 8.

“I had no calls, no reports before that,” she said.

After Smith was expelled from school, her family sought professional help. One psychiatrist told them that Smith was “just a normal teenager,” which assured her mother.

But Smith continued to act out and was eventually sent to a residential facility. She left after 21 days because of her disruptive behaviour.

A psychiatric report concluded: "She has a huge personality issue in emotional borderline tendencies.”

Once her daughter entered the prison system, Smith said she had no idea how she was being treated behind bars.

Smith has also said that she didn’t know her daughter spent so much time in segregation, or that she was repeatedly choking herself.

At a psychiatric prison facility in Saskatoon, Smith told her mother that guards had assaulted her.

"She was held down and punched with closed fist," said Smith, who will continue her testimony Thursday.

"I'm beside myself. You have no one to go to. Your whole world is just twirling."

Grand Valley guard Michelle Lombardo, who often conversed with Smith, confirmed at the inquiry Wednesday that after Smith’s death she commented that the teen was like a child inside an adult’s body.

“(That’s) not to say (she) wasn’t intelligent,” Lombardo said. “She was very intelligent.”

Earlier, Lombardo testified that she once asked Smith why she tied ligatures around her neck. Smith told her that she liked the sensation.

“I did say to her: ‘Ashley, there might be a time where we won’t get you in time, you know that we have other inmates in the unit and they require our resources as well,’” Lombardo said. “But she said: ‘But I know you’ll always get to me.’”

With a report from CTV Toronto’s Austin Delaney and files from The Canadian Press