Eastern State Penitentiary

02 May

While in Philadelphia, we visited Eastern State Penitentiary.

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Don’t panic.

We weren’t doing time or visiting any gangsters.

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It’s a historic site.

Not a functioning prison.

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What’s so special about this prison?

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Well prisons prior to this one were just great big holding pens for the bad guys.

Everyone was in together, regardless of your age, gender or crime.

And the guards were definitely not friendly and nasty punishment was common.

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But Philadelphia had a better idea.

They wanted to build the first penitentiary,

a place where the prisoners could do their penance,

repent of their sins and become good people again.

Oh and there would be no punishment,

especially capital punishment.

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This was a ‘no expenses spared’ prison.

Eastern State Penitentiary had central heating, running water, and flushing toilets before the White House!!

Each prisoner had their own cell (complete with skylight!)

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and private walled exercise yard, connected to their cell.

(The little blocked up door at the back of the cell was the door to the exercise cell.)

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The cellblocks radiated out from a central area where a guard could easily supervise all activity.

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Within the cell, the prisoners sat in silence, with their Bible,

so they could think about their poor behaviour.

Sounds like ‘time out’, doesn’t it.

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Well clearly this penitentiary idea was a hit for a while,

as just about everyone copied the idea.

It was certainly better than the previous prison plans.

They made the prison look ‘grim’ by giving it a scary looking facade,

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complete with high walls, faux arrow slits and turrets.

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Not everyone thought it was a great idea though.

Some felt that the solitude and silence would send a person mad.

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So eventually the idea was abandoned,

although some elements were kept

and new ideas were added,

creating our modern day prison systems.

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I found it sad that a prison designed to eliminate capital punishment,

later added a Death Row to their prison.

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Oh and Al Capone was once a ‘resident’ of Eastern State Penitentiary.

This prison was where he spent his very first prison sentence!

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Don’t feel too badly for him.

Apparently, he spent his year in relative luxury.

They let him furnish his own cell with his own furniture and belongings!

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I personally didn’t enjoy my little one hour stay in prison.

I enjoyed the tour and the history,

but Eastern State Penitentiary was absolutely freezing!!

(No, not as cold as Boston, but still uncomfortably cold.)

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It was colder inside the prison than it was outside.

So if you ever plan to visit, bundle up!

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Oh and Tasmanians,

you’d better avert your eyes in the prison foyer.

Check out what we saw on the wall!

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Do Americans not know what Australia looks like?!


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