Al Capone’s Cell… These photos of the abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary will spook you out…

Eastern State, designed by John Haviland and established on October 25, 1829, is regarded as the world’s first proper prison. Eastern State’s revolutionary incarceration system, dubbed the “Pennsylvania system” or separate system, encouraged separate confinement as a form of rehabilitation (the warden was legally required to visit every inmate every day, and the overseers were mandated to see each inmate three times a day).

The Auburn system (also known as the New York system) opposed the Pennsylvania system at the same time, believing that convicts should be made to labor together in silence and subjected to physical punishment (Sing Sing prison was an example of the Auburn system). Although the Auburn system was popular in the United States, Eastern State’s radial floor layout and solitary confinement system served as a model for over 300 institutions across the world.

Inmates were originally held in cells that could only be reached by entering a tiny exercise yard adjacent to the back of the jail; just a small entrance, just wide enough to pass meals, opened into the cell blocks. This concept proved unworkable, therefore cells were built in the center of construction that allowed convicts to enter and exit the cell blocks through metal doors covered by a thick wooden door to filter out noise. The halls were built to resemble a church.

The jail was one of the early republic’s major public-works projects, and it was a popular tourist site in the nineteenth century. Charles Dickens and Alexis de Tocqueville were famous visitors, while Willie Sutton and Al Capone were notable convicts in 1929. Visitors interacted with prisoners in their cells, demonstrating that they were not alone, even though convicts were not permitted to contact family or friends during their stay.

“The regime here is severe, strict, and dismal solitary imprisonment,” stated Charles Dickens after visiting the jail in 1842. In its consequences, I feel it is harsh and unjust. I consider this steady, everyday messing with the intricacies of the brain to be far worse than any physical pain.” Solitary imprisonment is a severe, strict, and dismal regime here. In its consequences, I feel it is harsh and unjust. I consider this steady, everyday messing with the intricacies of the brain to be far worse than any physical pain.”

The majority of the early inmates were minor criminals jailed for different robbery and theft crimes (muggers, pickpockets, purse-snatchers, burglars, etc.), and first-time offenders were frequently sentenced to two years in prison.

The Penitentiary was designed not only to punish, but also to encourage spiritual contemplation and reform in the offender. While some claim that the Pennsylvania System was inspired by Quakers, there is little evidence to back this up; the organization that promoted Eastern State’s creation, the Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons (today’s Pennsylvania Prison Society), was less than half Quaker and was led for nearly fifty years by Philadelphia’s Anglican bishop, William White.Proponents of the method felt that exposing convicts to thoughts of their behavior and the ugliness of their crimes in silence would cause them to become genuinely contrite.

In reality, the facility’s guards and councilors devised a variety of physical and psychological torture regimens for various infractions, such as dousing prisoners in freezing water outside during the winter months, chaining their tongues to their wrists in such a way that struggling against the chains could cause the tongue to tear, strapping prisoners into chairs with tight leather restraints for days on end, and placing the worst behaved prisoners in a pit.

Some believe that the doors were made narrow so that convicts would have a harder time getting out, reducing the possibility of an attack on a security officer. Others have claimed that the narrow doors caused the inmates to bend upon entering their cells. This design is tied to penance and relates to the prison’s religious influence. The cells were composed of concrete and included a single glass skylight that represented the “Eye of God,” implying to the inmates that God was always observing them.

Outside the cell was a separate exercise area with high walls that prevented convicts from communicating. Each prisoner’s exercise period was coordinated such that no two convicts close to each other were out at the same time. In their exercise yards, prisoners were allowed to plant and even have pets. When a prisoner left his cell, an accompanying guard would put a hood over his head to prevent other prisoners from recognizing him.

Individual-treatment systems were used to discipline inmates. This type of punishment was regarded to be the most effective at the time. They would be segregated from the rest of the group.

Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot supposedly condemned Pep “The Cat-Murdering Canine” (a real dog) to life in prison at Eastern State in 1924. Pep is accused of murdering the governor’s wife’s beloved cat. According to prison documents, Pep was issued a prisoner number (no. C2559), which can be seen in his mug photo. However, the basis behind Pep’s detention is still being debated. According to a recent newspaper item, the governor gave his own dog to the jail in order to boost inmate morale.

On April 3, 1945, twelve convicts (including the famed Willie Sutton) managed to construct an unknown 97-foot (30 m) tunnel through the prison wall over the course of a year. During restorations in the 1930s, another 30 inmate-dug tunnels were uncovered.

In 1971, the jail was closed. Many inmates and personnel were transported to Graterford Prison, which is located about 31 miles (50 kilometers) northwest of Eastern State. The land was bought by the City of Philadelphia with the purpose of redeveloping it. Several ideas were made for the site, including a mall and a luxury residential complex enclosed by the ancient prison walls.

During the abandoned period (from closure until the late 1980s), a “forest” developed within the cell blocks and outside the walls. Many stray cats made their home in the jail.

The Eastern State Penitentiary is a museum and historic site that is open all year. During the winter, guided tours are provided, and during the summer, self-guided recorded tours with headphones are also available (narrated mainly by Steve Buscemi, with former guards, wardens and prisoners also contributing). Children can participate in a scavenger hunt.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button