FILE – In this Jan. 8, 2016 file photo, drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, is made to face the media in Mexico City as he is escorted by Mexican soldiers after his recapture six months after escaping from a high security prison. The notorious Mexican drug lord was convicted for drug trafficking, costs, Tuesday, Feb. 12 2019, with the federal court in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)
NEW YORK – In the world of corrections, there are prisoners who pose security risks, and then there is “El Chapo.”
Drug lord Joaquin Guzman has an unparalleled record of jailbreaks, the escape of two high-security Mexican prisons before his ultimate capture and extradition to the United States.
So with the Guzman convicted Tuesday of drug trafficking and staring at a expected life sentence, where will the US be caught, a larger-than-life kingpin with a Houdini-like tendency to slide away?
Experts say Guzman seems to be the ideal candidate for the federal government’s “Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, known as ADX, for “administrative maximum,” a facility so secure, so far and so tight that it is also called the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”
“El Chapo fits the bill perfectly,” said Cameron Lindsay, a retired warden who walked three federal lockups, including the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. “I would be absolutely shocked if he is not sent to the ADX.”
Situated outside an old mining town about two hours south of Denver, Supermax’s hardened buildings house the nation’s most violent offenders, with many of the 400 prisoners held alone for 23 hours a day in 7-by-12-foot (2.1-3.7 m) cells with fixed furniture made of reinforced concrete.
Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias fashion tv and Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols were among those who call it home.
But Guzman, set to be sentenced in June for smuggling large quantities of narcotics in the U. S and with a hand in dozens of murders, would still of Supermax the infamous roster because of his almost mythical reputation for breaking out.
With a sensational 2015 to escape from the maximum security Altiplano prison in central Mexico, where he communicated with accomplices weeks via cell phone, slipped in an escape hatch under his desk, jumped on the back of a waiting motorcycle and accelerated by means of a kilometre-long, hand-dug tunnel to freedom.
Bribery is widely believed to have enabled that jailbreak, as well as an escape in 2001 Guzman was smuggled out of a top-security Mexican prison in a laundry basket.
“There had to be a combination of inside,” said Mike Vigil, a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who worked undercover in Mexico. “There is no doubt corruption played a role in both his spectacular escapes.”
Could that happen at Supermax? That is not likely.
Prisoners at Supermax spend years in solitary confinement and often go days “with just a few words spoken to them,” Amnesty International report found. An ex-prisoner, in an interview with The Boston Globe, described the lockup as a “high-tech version of hell, designed for the shutting down of all sensory perception.”
Most of the prisoners in the Supermax a tv, but their only real view of the outside world is a 4-inch window, whose design prevents them from even to determine where they are located in the facility. Human interaction is minimal. Prisoners eat in the solitude of their own cells, in the feet of their toilets.
The facility itself is guarded by barbed wire fences, gun turrets, heavily armed patrols and attack dogs.
“If there’s ever an escape-proof prison, it is the facility in Florence,” said Burl Cain, the former long-time administrator of the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. “It is the prison of all prisons.”
While the federal government has not said for certain where El Chapo will be housed, he is staring at “a phrase of which there is no escape and no return,” the Attorney of the V. S. Richard’donoghue said Tuesday after the ruling.
Guzman’s imprisonment in the run-up to his three-month trial included remarkable security measures as a result of the massive flight risk. He is housed in solitary confinement in a high-security wing of the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a new lock-up known as “Little Gitmo,” which has held notorious terrorists and gangsters.
The authorities have routinely shut down the Brooklyn Bridge for the shuttle, “El Chapo” to the federal court in a police motorcade, which includes a SWAT team and an ambulance followed by helicopters. Heavily armed federal officers and bomb-sniffing dogs patrol outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. The officials were so concerned about the safety, in fact, that Guzman was forbidden to cuddle with his wife in the process.
That is apparently no problem if he has the wind in Supermax, where all visits are non-contact, and the prisoners are separated from their visitors by a thick plexiglas screen.
“Other than when it is placed in restraints and escorted by guards, prisoners may spend years without touching another human being,” the Amnesty International report found.