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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 March 2019

El Chapo headed for a prison 'worse than death' called the Alcatraz of the Rockies

No one has ever escaped from the 'Supermax' prison

FILE - This Feb. 11, 2004, file photo provided by the Bureau of Prisons shows the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colo. Clockwise from lower left is the minimum security Federal Prison Camp, the high security United States Penitentiary, the maximum security United States Penitentiary and the Federal Correctional Institution. Experts say the drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who will be sentenced on June 25, 2019 for smuggling enormous amounts of narcotics into the U.S and having a hand in dozens of murders, seems the ideal candidate for the federal government's maximum security, "Supermax," prison, also known as ADX for "administrative maximum," a facility so secure, so remote and so austere that it has been called the "Alcatraz of the Rockies.". (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. Clockwise from lower left is the minimum security Federal Prison Camp, the high security United States Penitentiary, the maximum security United States Penitentiary and the Federal Correctional Institution. Experts say the drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who will be sentenced on June 25, 2019 for smuggling enormous amounts of narcotics into the U.S and having a hand in dozens of murders, seems the ideal candidate for the federal government's maximum security, "Supermax," prison, also known as ADX for "administrative maximum," a facility so secure, so remote and so austere that it has been called the "Alcatraz of the Rockies.". (Bureau of Prisons via The Gazette via AP, File)

In the world of corrections, there are inmates who pose security risks and then there's El Chapo.

Drug lord Joaquin Guzman has an unparalleled record of jailbreaks, having escaped two high-security Mexican prisons before his capture and extradition to the United States.

So, with the kingpin convicted on Tuesday of drug trafficking and staring at an expected life sentence, where will the US lock up the larger-than-life character with a Houdini-like tendency to slip away?

Drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman. PGR - Attorney General's Office
Drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman. PGR - Attorney General's Office

Experts say Guzman seems the ideal candidate for the federal government's Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, also known as ADX for "administrative maximum".

The facility is so secure, so remote and so austere that it has been called the Alcatraz of the Rockies.

"El Chapo fits the bill perfectly," said Cameron Lindsay, a retired warden who ran three federal lockups, including the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn.

"I'd be absolutely shocked if he's not sent to the ADX."

This photo taken on February 13, 2019 shows a view of the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, also known as the ADX or "Supermax", in Florence, Colorado. He has already managed to escape twice from high-security prisons in Mexico. But this time, crime lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman may find it more difficult to slip away from the "Supermax" prison in Colorado where he is likely headed. The facility, also known as ADX (administrative maximum), has been dubbed the "Alcatraz of the Rockies" because of its remote location and harsh security measures. / AFP / Jason Connolly
The Supermax facility is remote and secure, no one has ever escaped. AFP

Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols are among those who call it home.

But El Chapo is unlikely to mix with the other inmates.

An Amnesty International report in 2014 said that inmates spend a minimum of 12 months in solitary confinement before detention conditions are re-evaluated.

Located 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 its 400 inmates held alone for 23 hours a day in 2.1-by-3.7 metre cells with fixed concrete beds, desks and stools as well as stainless steel combination sinks, toilets and showers.

In this 1994 file photo, federal corrections officer William Brown stands in the doorway of a typical cell in a general population unit at the US Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Security facility in Florence, Colo. Experts say the drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who will be sentenced on June 25, 2019, for smuggling enormous amounts of narcotics into the U.S. and having a hand in dozens of murders, seems the ideal candidate for the federal government's "Supermax" prison in Florence, Colo., also known as ADX for "administrative maximum," a facility so secure, so remote and so austere that it has been called the "Alcatraz of the Rockies." (Mark Reis/The Gazette via AP, File)
Federal corrections officer William Brown stands in the doorway of a typical cell at the Administrative Maximum Security facility in Florence. AP, File

But Guzman, set to be sentenced in June for smuggling enormous amounts of narcotics into the US and having a hand in dozens of murders, would stand out even from Supermax's infamous roster because of his almost mythical reputation for breaking out.

That includes a 2015 escape from the maximum-security Altiplano prison in central Mexico, where he communicated with accomplices for weeks via mobile phone, slipped into an escape hatch beneath his shower, hopped on the back of a waiting motorcycle and sped through a mile-long, hand-dug tunnel to freedom.

Bribery is widely believed to have enabled that jailbreak, as well as a 2001 escape in which Guzman was smuggled out of another top-security Mexican prison in a laundry basket.

"There had to be collusion from within," said Mike Vigil, a former US Drug Enforcement Administration agent who worked undercover in Mexico.

"There is no doubt corruption played a role in both of his spectacular escapes."

Could that happen at Supermax? Not likely.

Prisoners at the facility spend years in solitary confinement and often go days "with only a few words spoken to them", an Amnesty International report found.

One former prisoner, in an interview with The Boston Globe, described the lock-up as a "high-tech version of hell, designed to shut down all sensory perception".

Most inmates at Supermax are given a television (only PG content can be watched), but their only actual view of the outside world is a four-inch window.

The window's design prevents them from even determining where they are housed in the facility — the view is either a brick wall or open sky. Human interaction is minimal. Prisoners eat all meals in the solitude of their own cells, within feet of their toilets.

The facility itself is guarded by razor-wire fences, gun towers, heavily armed patrols and attack dogs.

"If ever there were an escape-proof prison, it's the facility at Florence," said Burl Cain, the former longtime warden of the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. "It's the prison of all prisons."

While federal authorities have not said for certain where El Chapo will be housed, he's staring at "a sentence from which there is no escape and no return," US Attorney Richard Donoghue said after Tuesday's verdict.

This photo taken on February 13, 2019 shows a view by night of the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, also known as the ADX or "Supermax", in Florence, Colorado. He has already managed to escape twice from high-security prisons in Mexico. But this time, crime lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman may find it more difficult to slip away from the "Supermax" prison in Colorado where he is likely headed. The facility, also known as ADX (administrative maximum), has been dubbed the "Alcatraz of the Rockies" because of its remote location and harsh security measures. / AFP / Jason Connolly
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman may find it more difficult to slip away from the "Supermax" prison in Colorado than his lockups in Mexico. AFP

Guzman's confinement leading up to his three-month trial included remarkable security measures reflecting his immense flight risk. He has been housed in solitary confinement in a high-security wing of the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, a Manhattan lock-up known as "Little Gitmo" that has held notorious terrorists and mobsters.

Authorities have routinely shut down the Brooklyn Bridge to shuttle El Chapo to federal court in a police motorcade that includes a SWAT team and ambulance tracked by helicopters. Heavily armed federal officers and bomb-sniffing dogs have patrolled outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. Officials were so concerned about security, in fact, that Guzman was forbidden from hugging his wife at his trial.

That apparently won't be a problem if he winds up in Supermax, where all visits are non-contact, and prisoners are separated from their visitors by a thick Plexiglas screen.

"Other than when being placed in restraints and escorted by guards, prisoners may spend years without touching another human being," the Amnesty International report found.

"Daily life here is very boring and challenging if you are not physically and mentally strong," one inmate transferred from Washington DC to Florence told the Council of Washington DC, a civilian body that monitors prison facilities in the US capital.

Another said he felt "just happy to be alive."

Robert Hood, a warden at ADX Florence from 2002 to 2005, has described the prison as "a clean version of hell".

"It's far much worse than death," he said.

Updated: February 14, 2019 03:23 PM

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