The conditions are bleak in 10 South, as the most secure wing of the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the federal jail in New York City, is called. Its half-dozen cells are never dark and are perpetually monitored by cameras. The prisoners never go outdoors. Most days, they get an hour to themselves in a tiny “recreation” room with a treadmill, a stationary bike, a television and a window offering fresh air and a view of Lower Manhattan, the New York Times reports. A high-ranking mobster who spent several years there described it as “a torture chamber.” The unit has housed notorious defendants, from operatives for Al Qaeda to a foreign arms dealer. Its most recent prisoner is Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo.
In January, Guzmán was flown on a Mexican police jet to Long Island, then driven to the jail in an armed caravan. Ever since, he has been protesting his conditions of confinement and has taken up an unlikely role as an advocate for prison reform. Guzmán’s lawyers have complained that from the moment he arrived at 10 South, he has been locked in his cell for 23 hours a day, except for lawyer and court visits, and has been denied contact with his family and the media. The lawyers claim that he is the most closely guarded inmate in the U.S. and that the terms of his imprisonment have hindered his ability to prepare for trial. They have asked Federal Judge Brian Cogan to loosen the restrictions he faces and that Amnesty International be allowed inside 10 South to investigate conditions. Guzman twice broke out of high-security prisons in Mexico. Given his history, federal prosecutors have defended the restrictions on him.