Eddie Padilla's Escape From Lurigancho

The onetime OC man is the only man still alive who escaped from Peru's most notorious prison

Brewer jumped first and landed safely in the grass. Padilla took a deep breath and flung himself after his friend. One foot reached the grass. The other came up short, crunching stiffly into a stack of wood, and Padilla collapsed in a heap. "The plan was completely over because I could not walk," Padilla says. "My foot was the size of a cantaloupe." Padilla would later discover he had broken several bones in his foot and the fall had sheared his Achilles tendon.

Because their plan was to separate and meet up at the church, Brewer had already vaulted the second wall and was hailing passersby in an attempt to get a ride. Somehow, Padilla managed to drag himself to the wall, where Brewer had left a wooden ladder that had been discarded in the lot. He pulled himself over, and Brewer helped carry him 20 feet down the street. Seconds later, a car stopped; Padilla and Brewer disappeared into downtown Lima.

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Padilla in Maui, circa 2001
Courtesy Lorey James
Padilla in Maui, circa 2001
Worst suburb ever
Worst suburb ever

I first met Eddie Padilla in 2009 at his then-home in Santa Rosa, where he was living with his wife of 32 years, Lorey James. I was researching Orange Sunshine; her uncle was a fellow Brotherhood member, Brenice Smith, whose decades-long run from the law ended in 2009 when he returned to California from Nepal and spent a few months at the Orange County Jail (see "Distant Karma," Dec. 10, 2009). It wasn't an easy interview to get. When I emailed Padilla, asking if he'd share his tales from the days of the Brotherhood, he seemed cautious to the point of paranoia. He asked several questions regarding my intentions as a reporter, and when I responded that I wanted to meet with him in person and tape record an interview, he didn't reply for a few days. When he finally did answer, it was to tell me to get lost. "May all your days be six feet and glassy," he'd said, which seemed to be surfer lingo for goodbye and good luck.

Eventually, though, Padilla changed his mind, and over the course of two days, he shared his story with me—so much of it that the single-spaced transcript of my interview with him stretches more than 50 pages. He became a central character in my book, which also features a photograph of him taken on Maui in the early 2000s, when Padilla returned to the island as a drug counselor who had been sober for 17 years. In the shot, the shirtless, muscular, 60-something Padilla is grinning like a conquering warrior.

The only thing Padilla refused to share with me at the time was the story of his experience in Lurigancho. He was saving that for an article called the "Pirate of Penance" by former LA Weekly deputy editor Joe Donnelly that crowned the inaugural issue of the literary journal Slake in August 2010. "It's easy to see why Eddie Padilla was such a central figure in this entire drama," says Donnelly. "He's charismatic, egotistical, curious, and while he's a generous and kind person, he still has a bit of an edge to him. I should add, too, that the man can surf."

Padilla is now the only person alive who is known to have escaped from Lurigancho. Thomason, who wasn't included in the escape plan, served six months at the prison before being pardoned. Like Padilla, he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction; he is now supposedly living on a friend's property in a rural area of Hawaii. Brewer passed away in Dana Point on June 2, 2008. Two weeks later, Padilla and other friends held a paddle-out memorial service for him at Old Man's Beach.

For the rest of Padilla's amazing story, you'll have to read his newly published book, Lurigancho (Flying Rabbit Press, 2013), which he coauthored with the Maui-based scribe Paul Wood. He covers the depths of despair he reached inside that hellhole—not to mention the amazing escape from Peru that followed his foot-fracturing leap. But what he experienced in Lurigancho has made him such an effective addiction counselor that he hasn't been out of work since he went back to school in the mid-1980s following a near-death experience that led to his own recovery. "I think he's doing exactly what he's supposed to be doing," Lorey James says. "He knows just how far down you can go and what it takes to get out of that."

You can also get the abridged version of Padilla's escape from Lurigancho in the recent episode of the National Geographic Channel's Locked Up Abroad, which features interviews with Padilla that the British film crew had to fly to the Bay Area to film because Interpol still has a warrant out for Padilla's arrest on the Peruvian coke charges. To film the re-enactment scenes, the show's producer found what he called a "disgusting" prison in Ecuador that seemed to fit the part.

"I hope it does Lurigancho justice," the producer told Padilla.

“I looked at it,” Padilla recalls, “and thought, 'This place looks nice.'”

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