In the nearly two years since El Chapo arrived at the maximum-security federal prison in Florence, Colorado, he has been kept in solitary confinement all but two hours per week and is denied human contact, legal visits, mail from family, and even Spanish television, according to recent legal filings.
El Chapo's recent habeas corpus petition has given the public its first detailed glimpse into daily life at the most secure prison in the continental United States, through the eyes of the Mexican drug lord himself. Reputed to be the head of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, El Chapo -- whose real name is Joaquin Guzman Loera -- is serving a life sentence at the Supermax facility, though he is appealing his convictions.
According to court filings, the 63-year-old kingpin is kept in "cruel and inhumane prison conditions, in permanent isolation, amounting to mental and physical torture" at ADX Florence. His attorneys say he has "suffered tremendously" since he arrived there in July 2019.
"He is pretty much sitting idle in his cell, surrounded by the same four walls, in a grim and dehumanizing environment," El Chapo's attorneys wrote.
He spends all but 1-2 hours per week in a 7' by '12-foot cell with a single, tiny window barely 4 inches across. He has no human contact, other than when guards come to place him in shackles and lead him to a "10' by 10' dog-like kennel cement cage" for outdoor exercise time. His meals come in through a small hole in the cell door and he gets only two 15-minute social calls with pre-approved family members -- his sister, twin daughters, and mother -- per month.
Among the other grievances listed, El Chapo's attorneys claim that guards insist on speaking to El Chapo in English, though he speaks only Spanish, and that they have denied him access to Spanish TV and ESL learning programs that are supposed to be offered to inmates. They also allege that he's been denied appropriate food, the means to clean his cell, and that he developed toe fungus because all the inmates must use the same toenail clipper.
El Chapo's attorneys have proposed two solutions: that the staff at Supermax fix the problems and drastically improve conditions, or "release Mr. Guzman and extradite him back to Mexico."
The legal move for extradition to a country where he twice escaped from prison is a longshot, but El Chapo doesn't have much to lose; outside of his appeal, he has no recourse to get out of the prison where he'll likely spend the rest of his days. A federal judge has yet to issue a decision on the motion, but a lower-tier judge recently recommended it be dismissed, court records show.
The Supermax facility in Colorado is known as a modern-day Alcatraz; it is the most intense and restrictive prison under U.S. control, save for Guantanamo Bay. Only those considered to be the most notorious or dangerous federal prisoners are housed there, like terrorists (including participants in the 9/11 attack or the Boston Marathon bomber), the Unabomber, or leadership of prison gangs like the Mexican Mafia or Aryan Brotherhood.
Look above to view the court filings.
Written by: Nate Gartrell