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Drug Lord ‘El Chapo’ Likely to Be Sent to ‘Supermax’ Prison


FILE - In this Feb. 21, 2007, file photo, guard towers loom over the administrative maximum security federal prison called Supermax near Florence, Colo. (Chris McLean/The Pueblo Chieftain via AP)
Drug Lord ‘El Chapo’ Likely to Be Sent to ‘Supermax’ Prison
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Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman has a record of breaking out of prisons. The head of an illegal drugs organization escaped from two high-security Mexican prisons before being captured and taken to the United States for a trial.

Last week, a U.S. federal court found ‘El Chapo’ guilty of buying, selling and transporting illegal drugs. Since Guzman is likely to receive a life sentence, where will the U.S. imprison someone like him?

In this archive photo of January 8, 2016, drug trafficker Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán is escorted in Mexico City after his recapture
In this archive photo of January 8, 2016, drug trafficker Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán is escorted in Mexico City after his recapture

Experts say Guzman will likely serve his sentence at the federal government’s “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado. The prison is also known as “administrative maximum” or ADX. It is so secure and removed from society that it has been called the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.” Alcatraz was a highly secure federal prison on an island off the coast of San Francisco.

ADX is located outside an old mining town about two hours south of Colorado’s capital of Denver. The prison houses the nation’s most violent offenders. Many of its 400 prisoners are held alone for 23 hours a day in 2.1-by-3.7 meter cells. The few objects in the cells are made of concrete.

Cameron Lindsay had run three federal prisons, including the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. He said, “I’d be absolutely shocked if he’s not sent to the ADX.”

Prison escapes

In 2015, Guzman escaped from the maximum-security Altiplano prison in central Mexico. In that case, he communicated with helpers outside the prison for weeks using mobile phones. Guzman escaped through an opening beneath his shower. He then rode on the back of a waiting motorcycle through a 1.6 kilometer-long passageway to freedom.

In 2001, Guzman got out of another top-security Mexican prison in a laundry basket.

Mike Vigil is a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent. He said that Guzman had to have had help from people working in the prisons in order to escape. He added, “There is no doubt corruption played a role in both of his spectacular escapes.”

Bob Hood was a former warden of ADX Florence. He told the television program Inside Edition, "No one has [escaped] so far, since 1994 when they opened.”

FILE - This Feb. 11, 2004, file photo provided by the Bureau of Prisons shows the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colo. (Bureau of Prisons via The Gazette via AP, File)
FILE - This Feb. 11, 2004, file photo provided by the Bureau of Prisons shows the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colo. (Bureau of Prisons via The Gazette via AP, File)

A report by the non-governmental organization Amnesty International found that prisoners at ADX often go days “with only a few words spoken to them.”

Most prisoners at ADX are given a television. But their only view of the outside world is through a 10-centimeter window. The window’s design prevents them from even knowing where they are housed in the prison. There is little contact with other human beings. Prisoners eat all meals in their individual cells, less than one meter from their toilets.

The prison itself is guarded by sharp-edged wire fences, gunmen in tall structures, heavily armed guards and attack dogs.

Burl Cain is a former warden of the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. He said, “If ever there were an escape-proof prison, it’s the facility at Florence. It’s the prison of all prisons.”

Federal officials have not said for certain where El Chapo will be housed. But U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said after last week’s verdict that Guzman faces, in his words, “a sentence from which there is no escape and no return.”

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Jim Mustian reported this story for the Associated Press news agency. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in this Story

maximum – adj. greatest possible in amount or degree

concrete – n. a hard, strong material that is used for building and made by mixing cement, sand, and broken rocks with water

laundry basket – n. a container made for clothes, towels, sheets, etc. that need to be washed or that have been washed

spectacular – adj. causing wonder and admiration; very impressive

warden – n. an official who is in charge of a prison

facility – n. something such as a building or large piece of equipment that is built for a specific purpose

verdict – n. the decision made by a jury in a trial

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