El Chapo wanted out of Mexico’s nasty prisons—now he says his US jail is just as bad

Cruel and unusual?
Cruel and unusual?
Image: U.S. officials/Handout via Reuters
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Joaquin Guzman, the notorious drug lord known as El Chapo, has served time in—and twice escaped from— Altiplano, Mexico’s most secure prison.

Behind several steel doors, his cell appeared grim, and only included the basic amenities. Guards would wake him up several times during the night, and he complained that the lack of sleep was making him severely ill. Things were so bad, he said, he called for his own extradition to the United States.

Recaptured after an elaborately executed escape in Mexico, Guzman got what he wished for.

Now, as he awaits his trial in a Manhattan federal jail, he is once again unhappy about the conditions of his imprisonment. El Chapo’s complaints about the Metropolitan Correctional Center jail, known for holding mobsters and terrorists, reveal a complicated picture—and raise some questions about the nature of his confinement.

The jail is infamous among advocates and inmates, one of whom called it worse than the facility at Guantanamo Bay, and another said it was terrible even in comparison to the country’s highest-security prison in Florence, Colorado, according to the New York Times.

Here’s a selection of El Chapo’s complaints, per the Times:

  • In the rec room, he can’t exercise and watch TV at the same time, because of the placement of the TV set (according to Amnesty, he only has one hour a day outside his cell.)
  • He has to keep re-watching a documentary about rhinoceroses, because they jail doesn’t let him change the channel.
  • The tap water disturbs his throat, so he asked for bottled water (he now gets six small bottles every two weeks.)

Amnesty International, called in by El Chapo’s team to assess the prison, said he was being confined in a windowless cell for 23 hours a day, alone, and was refused contact with his family. His lawyers said his lights are always on, rendering him unable to tell the difference between night and day.

On the other hand, many of his complaints, lodged in court and reported by the Times seem, well, trivial, considering the charges against him—which include ordering hitmen to kill and torture as many as thousands of people.