El Chapo's demand for 'outdoor activity' may be part of plot to escape before June sentencing, say authorities
Federal officials fear Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán's request for an outdoor space after repeatedly complaining about a lack of outdoor activity is a part of a ploy to escape from confinement before his sentencing next month.
According to CNN, the request was made by one of the drug lord's attorneys, Mariel Colon, who wrote to a federal judge to intervene over the "cruel and unusual" prison conditions his client has been subjected to since he was extradited to the country in 2017.
Colon alleged that, in 27 months since he's been detained, Chapo, in his 10-by-8-foot windowless cell, has had no access to fresh air or sunlight. She also wrote that her client had been forced to put toilet paper in his ears to mask loud prison noise and that he suffered from headaches and ear pain that made it impossible for him to use earphones.
She asked the judge to order the Bureau of Prisons to grant Chapo access to two hours of outdoor exercises a week, earplugs, and the same food and drink offerings as the other inmates.
In response to the allegations, officials said the only outdoor exercise space at the facility Chapo is incarcerated is a rooftop with a wire mesh covering. They noted that El Chapo had previously escaped prison on two previous occasions — from a federal maximum-security prison in Mexico in 2001 after bribing guards, and then again in 2015, when he fled authorities prior to formal sentencing via a 1.5 km (0.93 mi) tunnel under his jail cell — and expressed a fear that he would do so again.
Their fear that the drug lord might be planning escape is likely exacerbated further by the fact that the same facility where he is currently being held was the site of an attempted jailbreak in 1981 where inmates hijacked a sightseeing helicopter and attempted to cut open that wire mesh covering.
"In this case, any outdoor exercise time would be particularly problematic for this defendant," they argued. "The defendant has successfully planned and executed elaborate escapes from two high-security penal institutions."
"As detailed at trial, one of the defendant's escapes involved the construction of a sophisticated, ventilated tunnel that stretched for over a mile. Certainly, an escape via rooftop, using a helicopter, or any related means would be elementary by comparison."
They also argued that Chapo had access to "several different types of exercise equipment, including an exercise bike and elliptical, and a vented window that provides the defendant with access to fresh, outdoor air and sunlight."
Chapo was convicted of running a criminal enterprise and other drug-related charges in February and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 25. It isn't going to get better for the drug lord in terms of his prison conditions either.
While it is unclear where he will be incarcerated following his sentencing, reports speculate prison officials will send him to the country’s most forbidding federal lockup, the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado.
Often referred to as the Alcatraz of the Rockies, inmates spend 23 hours a day inside their cells with little human contact and only one window, three feet high and four inches wide.