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Eastern State Penitentiary – Pics of the Week

On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I stopped at the Eastern State Penitentiary. Opened in 1829, this was the most famous and expensive prison of its time.  Tourists and researchers came from around the world to study this innovative prison system, including Alexis de Tocqueville and Charles Dickens.

Eastern State Penitentiary. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary was famous because it focused on encouraging penance, rather than punishment, thus coining the term “penitentiary.” Prisoners were isolated in separate cells and kept in silence in order to reflect on their behavior and become penitent. The guards watched the inmates from a center rotunda with the seven cell blocks radiating from the middle. Each prisoner had his or her own cell, running water, flush toilet, skylight, and outdoor exercise yard.

Eastern State Penitentiary Medical Cell Block. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary Medical Cell Block. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary, Cell Block Two. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary, Cell Block Two. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

 

Eastern State Penitentiary Cell. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary Cell. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Over the years, changes and additions to the prison ended the solitary confinement, increased the number of cell blocks, added buildings, and increased prisoner interaction. The prison population also increased much beyond the original capacity. One-person cells now housed two or three people and an upper level was added to new cell blocks.

Eastern State Penitentiary. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary, Recreation of Al Capone's Cell. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary, Recreation of Al Capone’s Cell. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

 

 

Al Capone spent one year in prison at Eastern State, as well as other infamous inmates. (It seems that the jury trial Christine wrote about took place about a year after his time in this prison.)

 

Eastern State Penitentiary. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The prison was closed in 1971 after 142 years and sat dormant and abandoned for 23 years. It was reopened for tours in 1994 and has since been immortalized in several films.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An MP3 player is provided with admittance, allowing for a self-guided audio tour that helps clarify the various years of construction and changes to the prison. Around the grounds there are displays containing prisoner recollections from interviews, historical information, and artist installations, while the website offers additional research sources. Eastern State also encourages reflection and discussion on the historical growth in the U.S. rate of incarceration and explores issues of race and capitol punishment with “The Big Graph,” a 16-foot tall structure on the grounds.

Eastern State Penitentiary, The Big Graph comparing incarceration rates and treatment. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

Eastern State Penitentiary, The Big Graph comparing incarceration rates and treatment. Photo by Fernando O. Gonzalez.

One Comment

  1. Jacinda Gill
    November 6, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Very good read and thank goodness for penitentiaries! There is a dark chapter in history however: having seen a documentary on Carl Panzram, arguably the most notorious serial killer of the 1900s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Panzram), many penitentiaries back then routinely practiced torture of many kinds on their prisoners.

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