El Chapo: His Great Escape from Prison

The tunnel in which El Chapo Escaped | Courtesy of Plugged Entertainment Magazine

Have you ever imagined being a billionaire? How about being a fugitive? Well, El Chapo was both a billionaire and a fugitive. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman became the leader of the Sinaloa cartel in the late 1980s. He was first captured on June 9, 1993, and was transported to Almoloya maximum security prison in Mexico. El Chapo constantly asked to be relocated, and in November of 1995, he was sent to the Puente Grande prison near Guadalajara. On January 19, 2001, El Chapo escaped by hiding in a dirty-laundry cart which guards led to the gate, and then he proceeded to walk out the building dressed as a policeman. The escape was like something you would see in a movie. Shortly after his escape, El Chapo resumed his leadership in the Sinaloa Cartel, which is one of the most powerful and violent drug trafficking syndicates in the world. The Sinaloa Cartel primarily smuggles and distributes Columbian cocaine, Mexican marijuana, methamphetamine, and Mexican and Southeast Asian heroin into the United States.1

Photograph of El Chapo being escorted from a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican soldiers and marines in Mexico City | January 8th | Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press | Courtesy of The Washington Post

On February 22, 2014, El Chapo, asleep next to his wife and 2-year-old twin daughters, was captured at a hotel in Mazatlan, Sinaloa. He had no time to escape nor grab his weapons. Once he was captured, the United States wanted El Chapo to be handed across the border for drug trafficking charges in U.S. federal court. However, Mexico insisted that they would detain El Chapo, and keep him so secure that he would not see the world in hundreds of years.2 He returned to prison after making a legendary escape 13 years ago through a tunnel he had fabricated. The prison he was placed in went to great lengths to ensure its security — by checking if the walls were hollowed, having a set shower time, and forcing inmates to have their heads shaved every seven to twelve days. Mexico officials felt that El Chapo should do his time in Mexico before being extradited to the United States.3

Photograph of Prison Cell prison wing | Courtesy of Max Pixel

On Saturday, July 11, 2015, word spread that El Chapo had escaped Altiplano Prison again. The next morning Mexican officials confirmed this news. Surprisingly, he had escaped through a 1.5-kilometre tunnel from a small opening in the shower area of his cell.4 Altiplano has a multitude of ground-level security measures such as the prison being covered in CCTV cameras and access control points.5 El Chapo was located in the special treatments area, hallway two, cell 20. The video footage Osorio Chong released from inside El Chapo’s prison cell showed Guzman entering the shower then disappearing at 8:52 p.m.6

One inmate, Flavio Sosa, was in the same unit seven years prior at the prison from which El Chapo escaped. He claims that this prison is not one you can easily escape from, because there are only 20 inmates in the special treatment area and a camera is watching you at all times in your cell. On top of that, there is a special visit program to intimidate inmates and inspect every cell thoroughly. In his words, “They strip you naked and once you are naked you have to do three squats, show them your testicles… Then, they enter your cell with dogs to examine it, with a tool that they use to knock on the wall on the floor… You have a shower time at 5:45 in the morning. Nobody can turn on the shower during the day or night.” This escape really exposed the weaknesses in the Mexican justice and prison system.7

Photograph of escape underway for German prisoners from Camp Papago Park | AP\Lawrence C. Jorgensen collection | Courtesy of AZ central

This isn’t the first time El Chapo has used tunnels to traffic or escape authorities. The tunnel he used to escape Altiplano prison also gave people a glimpse of the tunnels the Sinaloa Cartel likely use to traffic drugs across borders without being detected. Many people blame the Mexican government for the escape of El Chapo, causing them to lose trust in their government. El Chapo’s escape was demoralizing — through it, Mexican citizens lost the trust of the government’s abilities to protect their citizens as well as the trust between both borders. 8

  1. Romero L. Gomez, “El Chapo’ jailbreak is both a Mexican and an American story,” The Conversation (1-4), July 17, 2015.
  2. E. Eduardo Castillo and Katherine Corcoran, “Cartel boss escapes Mexican prison; Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman used elaborate, 1.5-km tunnel in second break from jail,” The Toronto Star, 2015.
  3. Rafael Castillo, “Inside El Chapo’s Escape Tunnel,” Vice News, Jul 24, 2015, video.
  4. E. Eduardo Castillo and Katherine Corcoran, “Cartel boss escapes Mexican prison; Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman used elaborate, 1.5-km tunnel in second break from jail,” The Toronto Star, 2015.
  5. Helen Regan, “Newly-Released Footage Shows Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman Moments Before His Escape,” Time, 2015.
  6. Rafael Castillo, “Inside El Chapo’s Escape Tunnel,” Vice News, Jul 24, 2015, video.
  7. Rafael Castillo, “Inside El Chapo’s Escape Tunnel,” Vice News, Jul 24, 2015, video.
  8. Alfredo Corchado, “Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman tunnels out of prison,” Dallas Morning News, July 13, 2015.
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84 Comments

  • As a fan of current news, I thought this article was noteworthy recognition. We need to put more emphasis and awareness on organized drug trafficking, but what I failed to see in this article (granted it was not the central focus) was a more careful analysis of the relationship between the drug cartels in Mexico and the dangerous environment that it generates. The detailed walk-through of the events leading up the escape and after was an enjoyment to read. While it seems that his exit was the very conspiracy-like. I would also like to point out that often elite figures in the U.S. even “escape” from prison at higher rates than El Chapo…granted not with as intricate physical maneuvers, theirs are a more rhetorical and speech filled maneuvers, which they use to evade or shorten their time in prison only to harm again. Big rant, but I think it is needed, an article comparing the Human Rights abuses of the 2008 Housing Market crash and event leading up to that event I believe also have merit if we are talking about Criminals evading jail time.

  • Since I am from El Paso, TX which is bordered by Cd Juarez I knew a lot about El Chapo. He was even imprisoned in Cd. Juarez. It amazes me how one person could escape so many times from prison. I find his story extremely interesting. This article was very fun to read and very well written. I also learned a lot!

  • This was a really cool article. I knew some about El Chapo before this article, but did not realize how many times he had escaped and the lengths in which he went to escape. It is so crazy to think about the level of connections that he had to have with higher ups in government and in the prisons to be able to pull off the escapes that he did.

  • This was an interesting take on the story of El Chapo. I liked how it focused more on the government aspect of it, and how the Mexican government failed to detain him several times. It just shows how corrupt institutions can become with bribes. Even in the United States, one could argue that our prison system is just as corrupt, with the for-profit motives, and the top elites running the show, whos to say people like El Chapo hasn’t escaped from prisons on US soil?

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