Coralee Smith spent Wednesday sharing details about her daughter, who strangled herself at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., as guards looked on.
Coralee Smith said Ashley was a happy child whose troubles didn't begin until she reached her teens.
She said her adopted daughter then became preoccupied with finding her birth parents and grew increasingly disruptive at school.
Smith said she didn't know many details about Ashley's time behind bars, but that Ashley did share a few disturbing details. She said Ashley once complained of being punched by a prison guard.
"She said they were scary. It was a scary place, and 'there were murderers and everything here, Mom,'" Smith recalled Wednesday.
Previous video footage has shown Smith being forcibly restrained and injected with medication against her will.
The inquest is probing the circumstances surrounding her death and the treatment of mentally ill patients in the prison system.
Smith is the first inquest witness not connected with the prison or medical systems.
'She was smiling and happy'
Her depiction of her daughter in prison contrasted sharply with her portrait of Ashley's childhood. She told the inquest Wednesday about how she adopted Ashley at just three days old, and she was "smiling and happy" for most of her life.
The courtroom was also shown pictures of Ashley over the years, including images of her playing with a Cabbage Patch Doll and posing with members of her family.
"You never saw that girl without a smile on her face," Smith told the inquest. "Most of her life she was smiling and happy."
In Grade 9, Ashley was expelled for disruptive behaviour, setting off a family quest to find help. At one point, Ashley saw a psychiatrist.
"She opined Ashley was just a normal teenager … Coming out of that, I'm feeling rest assured that things aren't so bad," said Smith.
Ashley would later go to a residential facility for an assessment that was supposed to last 34 days, but was cut short after 21 days because of her disruptive behaviour.
"She has a huge personality issue and emotional borderline tendencies," a psychiatric report concluded.
A mental-health report from that stay noted Ashley wanted to know about her adoptive father, but Smith said she didn't have much information to give her.
"He never even sent a birthday card or a Christmas card," she said of her ex. "I can see how that would play on a little girl."
Smith also said she had held off giving her daughter information on her biological parents on the grounds she was just too young.