Philadelphia: The Eastern State Penintentiary

Suanne wanted to visit the Rodin Museum but I wanted to visit a prison instead. Philadelphia’s Rodin Museum has the biggest collection of the Rodin’s works outside of France. That picture below was Suanne’s last happy face picture with Rodin’s famous work — The Thinker. I think this is the real deal … the original The Thinker and not a replica.

As usual, she being a super nice person, went along with my choice … but …

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… we had absolutely no idea how difficult it was to walk from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Eastern State Penitentiary. On the map, it looked like it was a short walk but we did not count on the climb … and in searing mid day heat too. Suanne complained about my great idea as she huffed and puffed all the way up to where the prison was.

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After a 20 minute slow walk, we thought the worse was over when we saw the prison walls. Well, the worse was yet to come. When Suanne is upset, I better keep quiet. He he he … I love the way she gets mad … sometimes, not always.

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It was worse because this freaking place does not have air-conditioning. But of course, right?

It was worse indoors than outdoors. It was stuffy and humid. And we had our last liter of water finished by the time we got there. We wanted to buy some drinking water but it costs $2 per bottle. No siree … that’s cut throat.

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Suanne wasn’t too happy but I really enjoyed the visit. It is actually a state of the art prison facility of it’s time and is described as the first modern prison system. Back almost 200 years ago, the prison system were based on physical punishment for the incarcerated.

It is here that the new radical “Pennsylvania System” was first experimented successfully which became a model for prisons all over the world. See the picture above. The floor plan of the cells are arranged in long corridors like spokes in a wheel with the hub being the central control center of the prison where they can monitor every cell.

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The picture above is at the hub, is where the prison guards can see down every corridor. This way they can reduce the guard to prisoner ratio.

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So, what is so special about the Eastern State Penitentiary? The name, penitentiary. Here the goal of the prison is not to punish but to help the incarcerated to seek “penance”.

Every prisoner is given a room by themselves. They lived in solitude and given an environment where they can reflect on their behaviour and find genuine remorse. Prisoners are only given a Bible to read, that’s all.

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It is also operated in total silence. No interaction is allowed. That is why each cell have everything they need including for the first time, luxuries like their in-cell potty and heating too. The heating was a real luxury at those time especially when not many houses have these type of fancy heating.

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Perhaps the most famous inmate here is Al Capone. The plaque above shows all the prisoners who had volunteered to fight in a war and died. The prison put up the plaque to remember their sacrifices … but … instead of putting up their names, they put up their prison ID instead.

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The “Pennsylvania” system fell out of favour eventually. It is now replaced with many other systems but it was a prison that was revolutionary and is a model for new systems.

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  1. I think I would go with Suanne’s choice! A hot and stuffy prison just doesn’t do it for me 🙂

    FYI, the real “thinker” is held in the Rodin museum in Paris – I took Art History…twice while in university. Didn’t pay attention the first time since it was boring and dry!

  2. Judging from the looks of that toliet, it hasn’t been cleaned in quite a while.

    No prision chow to review?

    A servering of SOS at least?

  3. Given the ordeal Suanne went through, I wonder if she considered locking you in a cell and throw the key! ^_^;;;

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