Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia
|A couple of blocks away from Independence Hall,
while Franklin and Jefferson were signing the
Declaration of Independence, prison conditions were
appalling. Jailers made little effort to protect prisoners
from each other. Violence was common, and prisoners
dying of cold and starvation was not uncommon.
Franklin joined a committee to seek more humane
|And THIS is what they came up with in 1829!
Eastern State Penitentiary was intended as a
“house of repentance, where prisoners could meditate
on their crimes and experience spiritual remorse”.
All prisoners were in complete solitary confinement
for their entire sentence. The “Pennsylvania model” was soon
adapted in Europe, China, Japan, Russia and
|Entrance to the medical wing, a complete, state
of the art hospital, complete with x-ray, pathology
lab, operating room, pharmacy and recovery room.
A solarium was used to “cure” tuberculosis patients
by exposure to sunlight and fresh air
before the invention of antibiotics. The wing
is designated by the red cross soldered into the
center of the heavy iron gate door.
|Prisoners entered and left the prison with a bag
over their heads, so no one could recognized that
they had ever been in prison. This also ensured
there would be no escape, as prisoners never saw
the prison outside of their private cell. No outside
visitors were allowed. Food was delivered through
a small door. Charles Dickens, after his visit in
1842, wrote critically, “those who designed this
system do not know what they are doing. I hold
the slow and daily tampering with the mysteries
of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any
torture of the body”.
|A typical cell, in which the inmate would spend
all his time. Inmates also learned a craft, such as
shoemaking during their sentence, and worked in
their cell. Eastern State was so revolutionary in
its design – it had central heating and flush toilets
before President Jackson had them at the White House.
|Note how well appointed this prison cell is, with
a desk, lamp, carpet and easy chair? This was the
cell of Al Capone, who was arrested for carrying a
concealed weapon. Rumor has it that he used his
stay at Eastern State to lay low for 8 months from
another mob that wanted to kill him.
|Eventually the solitary system
was abandoned due to overcrowding.
By 1970, Eastern State Penitentiary
was hopelessly out of date, both
by prison reform standards and
by the crumbling walls. It closed,
and became an historic site in 1994.
|Stunning statistics. Makes you
wonder what Franklin would think
of our current prison system.
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