Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The headline read “Mexican Drug Kingpin, El Chapo, Escapes Prison ThroughTunnel,” (NYT, 7/12/15). The ensuing article described a tunnel extending for a mile and dug from the cell which housed, Joaquin Guzman Loera or El Chapo as he is known. The piece went on to say, “The tunnel was more than two feet wide and more than five feet high, tall enough for him to walk standing upright, and was burrowed more than 30 feet underground. It had been equipped with lighting, ventilation and a motorcycle on rails that was probably used to transport digging material and cart the dirt out.” What is even more striking is that El Chapo had already flown the coop back in 2001. New Yorkers have only recently gotten over the Richard Matt and David Sweat escape from the Clinton Correctional Institution. However, their breakout from a prison from which there had been no previous incidences in its 150 year history pales in comparison to El Chapo’s feat. If Sweat and Matt barely dealt with how they would get away once they pushed open their manhole cover on the street in Dannemora, El Chapo had already drawn upon the mythology of slavery to devise his own underground railroad. No one wants to see prisoners escape, but maximum security prisons, whether you are in Mexico or the US, tend to be formidable places and there is a lurid fascination with the how and wherefore of these operations that might be called the Houdini effect. The idea of underground tunneling is nothing new. The movie The Great Escape documents the escape from Stalag Luft III. In the past, El Chapo had apparently dug tunnels under some of his residences precisely for the purpose of eluding pursuit (“Tunnel vision: A look inside El Chapo’s underground hideaways,” CNN, 7/14/15). Yet this mile long tunnel suggests the beginning of using escaping prisoners to create mass transit. Robert Moses couldn’t have thought this one up. Build a maximum security prison near an urban area which only has over ground bus lines. Make sure the guards turn their heads at the right time and voila! The only price you’ll have to pay for your new subway system is that of having a couple of ex-cons on the lam. Desperation can always be depended on when it comes when it comes to saving bucks on infrastructure.

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