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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103 Comments

  • I have heard of El Chapo’s numerous escapes before, however, I never really looked into much detail about them. I like how the article begins and captures the reader’s attention. It seems that El Chapo must have received external help since the Mexican prison followed strict procedures. Even Flavio Sosa said that this prison is not one you can easily escape from, which is primarily due to the high surveillance. Overall, great use of images and very well written. Good work.

  • There is a common misconception that Mexico is the root of the problem for any issues that the United
    States faces in the criminology sense. I believe that the United States should focus on the internal problems at stake first such as gun laws for example and then focus on blaming the rest of the world. I enjoyed reading this article but I think there should of been more history about El Chapo and what led to his escape. His story is truly a shocking one and the escape, as the author mentioned, did cause an impact in the citizens of Mexico, really all over the world. It is not strange for a prisoner to escape however, it is incredibly rare for someone to dig an entire tunnel without being detected in a maximum security facility. Although it is not said as to how this became possible without anyone noticing, there are a lot of rumors about the Mexican government being involved with his escape which could be possible. I do not condone the behavior but I do believe that the Mexican citizens doubted their own government way before Joaquin’s escape.

  • El Chapo definitely knew how to get out of tough situations. His ability to escape from prison, not once, but twice is impressive. It’s a shame that he escaped, however, as no one would want him roaming free considering the fact that he’s a drug lord. I did not know that El Chapo is a billionaire… I guess I should have figured that because he is a drug lord.

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