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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This Post Has 125 Comments

  1. I have not heard much of the El Chapo story until now, and i did not realize how recent his escapes were. Seems as if he is quite an intelligent man to be able to escape two highly secured Mexican prisoners, or there actually is something happening within the Mexican security in those prisons, persuading them to help El Chapo. I know this is not confirmed information, but it would not be the first time the Mexican police and government are guilty of being untruthful.

  2. El Chapo is a well-known name. I’ve heard many things about him back when I was in high school. All I heard was, “El Chapo escaped.” I heard of him but never truly knew how he escaped or that he had escaped previously to 2015. I didn’t know he was a billionaire, I just knew he had something to do with drugs.

  3. I remember the breaking stories from when El Chapo escaped. This article does a great job in really informing you of this event. I find it truly interesting that after all the security they have and all things they make you do to make sure you don’t have any weapon or etc., he still managed to pull it off. It makes you think that he might have had help from the inside. This article is extremely well written.

  4. Ive heard about El Chapo but I never really knew his whole story. I was most surprised that he escaped in a laundry cart that the guards were pushing and he got away with it and the fact that he was able to escape a second time. The article was well written and catches our attention. He was a very smart man but used it for the wrong reasons.

  5. Joaqiun “El Chapo” Guzman is without a doubt one of the most well-known Mexican drug cartel to have ever lived. It’s crazy that he escaped prison not once but twice and from maximum security prisons. This article shows some points that can be used as pros and cons because the fact that he escaped a maximum security goes to show how these prisons really operate and how well protected they are. It’s pretty fascinating how El Chapo was committed to escaping again and the conditions that he went to fulfill this mission…was it the correct decision? Probably not because now his sentence is bound to be longer than it already was but now we just have to let time do its thing and see if he is able to escape once again…

  6. Ashley Martinez

    I think most people know who El Chapo is, he has been greatly discussed by both the United States and Mexico. It is so crazy to think that this criminal escaped from prison several times. He even escaped through a tunnel that had been made. This article really makes you think about the security in all prisons and not just in Mexico. We as a society trust and hope that these areas like prisons are secure and keep those criminals there to serve their time. Some of these people are dangerous and we do not want them just escaping. This was a well written article that vividly described this story with great detail and with accurate information.

  7. I remember the whole world was talking about El Chapo escaping from prison the second time around, since that’s when I was old enough to understand. I find it so fascinating learning about narcos and how they built their empire. He obviously had great connections to have people get him out of jail not only once, but twice. You can easily tell why the citizens of Mexico lost trust in their government, a man as dangerous a Chapo should not have been able to escape in the first place.

  8. El Chapo is a very controversial person on both sides of the border, for both the United States and the Mexico. The fact that El Chapo was able to easily plan and execute a successful escape route from maximum security prisons shows how powerful he was in Mexico. I believe due to corruption, fear, and the amount of money that the Sinaloa cartel had is what allowed el chapo to easily influence people to aid him in his escape. Its hard to assign blame to just one government or to just one cartel leader, I think this just falls down to the idea that money really talks and has a way of influencing people, especially someone that is poor. After all El Chapo started off poor and drug trafficking took him out of poverty. Interesting article over a well known name in North America.

  9. I remember in 2015 this was the highlight of everybody’s conversation. I was completely unaware of the reasons behind his escape until I read this article. It truly does fall on the Mexican government for allowing such faults in their prison system. It is insane to believe he escaped twice from their prison so quickly. I do wonder however if anybody else had to do with his escape. The Mexican government, to this day, is quite corrupt so I can imagine one or two guards could have been paid off to turn their eye at the situation.

  10. El Chapo’s story is something that has been going around for a while now. I can recall hearing on the news that he escaped from prison, and I was in shock because I couldn’t believe how quickly he had managed to get out. The beginning of the article is written so well and catches the attention of the audience so quickly! Such an interesting read!

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