This project was done at the old Eastern State Prison in Philadelphia, Pa. It was the very first prison of its kind in the world and considered the model that other prison would soon design their prisons after.
A community developed around this Penitentiary and when you walk up to it, it stands out because of the tall grey brick walls that reminds us of an old English castle. Now this place has been converted into a museum that hosts hundreds of tourist daily. Portions of the prison has been semi-restored however, most of the facility has deteriorated. Nevertheless, one gets the impression as to what a life in this prison was like.
This is a model of the facility. If you look closely you can see the various cell blocks connecting to a common nucleus. Each person was assigned to an individual cell and everyone was literally in solitary confinement. If you look again you can see the individual outdoor “yard” spaces that each cell had that was walled off from the next. The inmate was allowed to come out and walk in their “yard” space for about an hour a day.
As a prisoner would walk into his cell block for the very first time, this would have been his view of his new surroundings. This is what he saw when he went to eat and what he saw when he was going to be discharged.
The average cell looked like this one when restored. The gentlemen that stayed in this cell was convicted of stealing his neighbor’s cow, he was sentenced to two years and fined six cents. I guess if the law states “thou shalt not steal,” it means “thou shalt not steal.”
The “loo,” (toilet) no need for modesty here especially if you’re in a cell alone. The prisoners were subject to the architectural limitations of the times. In the summer the rooms were very hot, and in the winter they were very cold.
When a prisoner was allowed to come out of his cell for that “hour” per day, he had his own yard to walk around in. This door connects to his cell. If by chance there was someone outside next to him, they “may” have had a conversation. The rule was that prisoners weren’t allowed to make noise and therefore, conversations were limited.
There were upper and lower levels to some of the cell block units.
“Scarface” Al Capone was sentenced to prison here reportedly for carrying a gun. I would imagine in this day and age there’s not enough rooms in prison to hold everyone convicted of the exact same crime. As you can see, Capone was seemingly given special deference by the prison officials because his room (I mean) cell was specially furnished for him. Who says that crime doesn’t pay? Oh yes, some say that he may have had a roommate, but who really knows.
There was a medical unit for those prisoners in need as identified by this gate with a symbol of a red cross within it.
The prisoners also had access to worship and chaplaincy. Here is a restored synagogue for the Jewish inmates. Other faiths were also represented within the prison.
At the end of the day, all of the cells were closed and locked tight. This is how it looked outside of the average cell unit.
This tour of the Eastern State Penitentiary was an educational experience. What we do know about this prison is that it was the very first of its kind in the world and was called the Pennsylvania model by which all of the other prisons in the world were designed. If you’re ever in the area, its worth taking an hour or so to come through. The tours are informal and you can move at your own pace.
Those who are interested in visiting or giving their support please contact:
Eastern State Penitentiary, 2077 Fairmount Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19130