El Chapo's New York Jail Sounds Like Literal Hell

Photo credit: Getty
Photo credit: Getty

From Esquire

While 3 Doors Down was teaching Abe Lincoln a thing or two about America on Thursday night, the Mexican government announced the extradition of notorious drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to the United States. Quickly, we learned the cocaine and heroin kingpin was already in the air on his way to New York City. He landed on Long Island and, according to The Los Angeles Times, traveled in a 13-car motorcade to perhaps the most no-joke jail available on U.S soil: Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Located just south of Chinatown, the facility is, by the Times' account, a fortress:

Built in 1975, the 12-story structure has slit-shaped windows with frosted glass that prevents prisoners from peering out at the busy city. A tunnel leads to the adjacent federal courthouse, allowing prisoners to be moved without seeing daylight, though it is unclear whether Guzman will ever pass through it since he is being tried across the East River in Brooklyn.

It has held high-profile suspects like John Gotti, Bernie Madoff, and terrorists Omar Abdel Rahman and Ramzi Yousef, along with countless organized crime and terrorism figures. Those notorious types were held in the "10 south wing," for prisoners who need to be segregated from the general population-as Guzman likely will.

Photo credit: Getty
Photo credit: Getty

The prison's harsh conditions are featured in a book on solitary confinement, Hell Is A Very Small Place, in which a former prisoner is quoted saying that in his cell, the bed, desk, and chair were all made of concrete. "The cells were the coldest places because the metallic sheets on the walls turned the cells into ice boxes, freezing us inside instead of insulating us from the outside weather, and food items would freeze if I kept them in some parts of my cell," said the prisoner, Uzair Paracha, a Pakistani convicted of assisting al Qaeda. "The summers made the cells into ovens."

New York attorney Joshua Dratel, who has defended terrorism suspects housed at the Center, did not mince words with the Times: "It is worse than Guantanamo. It is about as soul-negating existence as there is in this country in the federal system."

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"I assure you no tunnel will be built leading to the bathroom," said Angel Melendez, a Homeland Security agent, referencing Guzman's (alleged) daring escape from a Mexican federal prison in 2014-his second escape from such a facility. (In the first, he snuck out in a laundry cart. Cartel expert Don Winslow refuses to believe either story.) Prisoners have tried to escape the Center: In 1978, three prisoners did so successfully by sawing through the bars of their cell. Three years later, a hijacked sightseeing helicopter tried to scoop an inmate off the rooftop recreation area without success.

Photo credit: Getty
Photo credit: Getty

The conditions will be tough, but likely necessary, to house Guzman. Not only does he boast an (alleged) escape record, he is thought to be one of the most prolific drug traffickers and killers in North American criminal history. He faces 17 indictments in New York-where he was sent over the other states pressing charges against him, including California, Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire and Texas-and is thought to have transported 440,000 pounds of cocaine into the United States and to be responsible for an untold number of murders. It's estimated he made $14 billion in the process, which the U.S. is trying to seize as a penalty-along with a sentence of life in prison. The U.S. agreed to waive the death penalty, which Mexico opposes, to expedite the extradition.

It's unclear how long Guzman will call the Metropolitan Correctional Center home, but it's unlikely to be a pleasant stay.

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