El Chapo's Fascinating Life Before Crime

Rising to the position of drug lord in 2003, Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman Loera—AKA El Chapo—has since grown a massive criminal empire, and is considered by the DEA to be "the godfather of the drug world". Despite the criminal origins of his power, he was included on the Forbes list of the most powerful people in the world three times between 2009 and 2011. In 2010 he was the 10th richest man in Mexico, with a net worth of approximately $1 billion.

On January 8, 2016, Chapo was finally captured by authorities. But his current position behind bars is nothing new, since he's dramatically escaped from maximum security prisons twice before. It's par for the course for such a career criminal. However, despite his impressive (and violent) resume, there was a time—however briefly—when El Chapo wasn't a criminal. This is the story of El Chapo's life before crime.


Joaquin Guzman Loera was born in the remote village of La Tuna, in the state of Sinaloa on the Pacific coast of Mexico. El Chapo was the eldest of seven children, with two sisters and four brothers following him through the birth canal. His parents were Emilio Guzmán Bustillos and María Consuelo Loera Pérez, who would become powerful binary influences on the soon-to-be criminal genius. While the location of his birth is well-known, there's some confusion about the date of his birth, reported as either April 4, 1957, or December 25, 1954, depending on who you ask.

It's understandable nobody actually knows his real birthdate—after that many kids, it's a wonder his parents even knew when their own birthdays were.

Education and work experience

Growing up in such a poor and remote part of Mexico, the drug trade was one of the largest sources of income for people. Little Joaquin didn't jump straight onto that boat, however. Instead, for a while, he made money selling whatever he could find, like oranges, soda, and candy. But the region wasn't just lacking in jobs—it was also lacking in schools. This meant that, although our future crime boss did get a little schooling, it was severely limited and he dropped out in the third grade. Later in life, it is rumored, he had to use ghostwriters to compose love letters to his various mistresses. Considering the success of his eventual empire, it's safe to say that, in his case at least, business acumen is way more nature than nurture.

The yin and yang of family life

El Chapo's family was extremely poor, but worse was that his father was physically abusive, regularly hitting his children. Young Joaquin would often escape to his grandmother's house to avoid the torment, but is reported to have regularly stood up to his father, in order to protect his younger siblings. In contrast to his father, Chapo's mother was a source of great comfort to him. Later in life, when he was rapidly climbing the ladder of the drug trade, he would build a large house in La Tuna, with a chapel, for his mother to live in ... which is a total stereotype, but still a lovely thing to do for one's mama.

The tide starts to turn

Although his father was officially a cattle rancher, it is believed he was actually in the drug trade himself, growing poppies for opium, as well as marijuana. When Joaquin left school, he unsurprisingly ended up helping out his father in the business, what with the lack of other opportunities. But although his father should have been making enough drug money to support his family, he often came home without a penny, having blown it all on the proverbial wine, women, and song. It got so bad that. before Proto-Chapo turned 15, he enlisted the help of his cousins to start independently growing marijuana, simply to support his family like his father wouldn't.

The end of innocence

In his early teens, it became apparent that Joaquin would never be a tall man. People began to call him El Chapo, or "shorty", the name that would eventually replace his legal one in virtually every media report of his crimes and accomplishments. He eventually topped out at 5'7", and despite his later success (and famed brutality), he never accepted his diminutive stature, always being careful of who he stands next to, so to prevent him looking unnecessarily short.

It was also around this time that his relationship with his father completely broke down (Dad probably couldn't stand being out-man-of-the-housed) and El Chapo was kicked out of the family home. He went to live with his grandfather, and continued to grow weed and support his family.

A career beckons

Most of the people living in Municipality of Badiraguato (where El Chapo grew up) are content to spend their lives playing a small part in a large operation—namely, growing and harvesting both marijuana and opium poppies. But Joaquín Guzmán is no ordinary Mexican, and his pursuit of power and control drove him to leave La Tuna, in search of a career with actual prospects. Since the only thing he really knew anything about was drugs, it's no surprise he found his way to working for the local drug trafficker-in-chief, Miguel Gallardo, as a chauffeur. But as humble as that sounds, it didn't take long for him to make his mark, and the rest, as they say, is history ... and histroically huge piles of cash.