El Chapo: His Great Escape from Prison

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

  1. Avatar
    Sebastian Portilla

    He is one crazy man. El Chapo is a renowned drug lord in the world. He’s generated billions and billions of dollars through the trade of drugs. To many he is a bad man but many villages in Mexico worship him as he is a “Robin Hood” of their time. The Mexican government does not comply with the citizens of Mexico as El Chapo does. Well written article!

  2. Avatar
    Patricia Arechiga

    El Chapo has been a name that I kind of grew up hearing considering the fact he was on the news constantly. It’s pretty hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that he escaped a numerous amount of times. I wonder how he even developed his plans or contacted others to assist him considering the fact he was in ‘maximum’ security prisons. As much as I hate to admit it, he is an incredibly smart person. Unfortunately, his smartness was used for wicked crimes. I wonder what his life would be like if he didn’t undergo the cartel life.

  3. Avatar
    Saira Locke

    El Chapo is a very lucky man. Being able to escape prison is a miracle but escaping twice is unheard of and he succeeded. I believe that he had insight to the prison secrets as his cartel probably smuggled drugs into those prisons. It is scary that the Mexican government allowed him to escape twice and truly shows how secure their system really is. I haven’t never read into El Chapo’s story but reading this article was very interesting and has incurred me to read more about him and his wrongdoings.

  4. Avatar
    Jose De Julian

    El Chapo is known for being one of the biggest drug cartel leaders in the world. I remember back in 2015 when he escaped prison for the second time people weren’t surprised. Everyone knew that he had helping hands in the Mexican justice system. There is no way that he would have been able to dig the elaborate tunnels by himself to escape. The high security prison had eyes on him 24 hours a day. El Chapo’s status and his wealth must have been a factor in which guards helped him escape from prison no once but twice. The Mexican prison system is corrupt.

  5. Avatar
    Nicholas Hatch

    This article was very interesting. It is crazy to think that El Chapo escaped a maximum security prison on two separate occasions. I like how the article talks about one of the inmates that were there when El Chapo made his escape. During this part, he states how the prison was very hard to escape. El Chapo was a smart man being able to plan and execute these tough escapes. It’s sad he can not use his genius ideas for good. Overall this article was very good!

  6. Avatar
    Sofia Martinez

    Everyone knows how many times “El Chapo” had escaped and still he was being held in these Mexican prisons, while the government knew that he would find a way to escape. For me, it seems impossible that he was able to escape without any help from anyone inside the prison that he was being held in 2015, I believe that the government wanted him to escape and do his work, so he could be traded off to the United States for a good price. Almost seen as a bond that Mexico was willing to receive, showing how corrupt Mexico’s government is.

  7. Avatar
    Bruno Lezama

    I have heard about the Chapo escaping from prison when I was a child. However, I didn’t know how he escaped from prison. It is unbelievable how a person could be so smart to escape from a prison with a lot of security. The way that he escape from the prison sounds like an action movie. I believe that this is a warning to the government to make their prison more secures. This have to be the last time that a prisoner escapes from prison. Good article!

  8. Jose Chaman
    Jose Chaman

    The story of El Chapo is, certainly, mind-blowing. A lot of corruption is implied in his first escape, no prisoner can be mistaken for someone else, especially by the guards. Although, his second fled was a mixture of wit and despair. No one in this world can do what El Chapo did, yet living a life full of risks, blood, drugs and closure is not a life. This story can be pretty interesting, nonetheless we should not cheer his actions.

  9. Avatar
    Kenneth Gilley

    This was a very interesting article. It is amazing that El Chapo was able to escape from maximum security prisons not once, but twice! It would not surprise me if El Chapo used some of his immense amount of money to make his escape by bribing some of his guards. Clearly, he was an ingenious man. It is a shame that he used his cleverness for such bad reasons.

  10. Avatar
    Hector Membreno

    The first escape of El Chapo in 2001 one is not explainable in any other way then the Mexico government and prison system being corrupt as El Chapo was basically escorted out by guards. But his second escape is nothing less then engineering genius. It is crazy to me how someone can construct such a tunnel and escape with little to no communication with outsiders. Im not sure if it is embarrassing for the Mexican prison system or an unforgettable feat by El Chapo.

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