Behind the bars of Eastern State Penitentiary
hen I found out that I had to go to the USA, several things came up to my mind. For sure the stereotypes most people imagine such as Route 66, eat a lot of fatty food, consumption and others. However, as somebody who likes to explore what is beneath the cover of most things. I was looking forward to discover what the Mickey’s country had to offer. Turns out I end up in jail, on the Eastern State Penitentiary.
I could swear. This time, besides ate more than my nutritionist could imagine, I did nothing wrong. While looking for unusual places, I came across the Eastern State Penitentiary, an old and incredible abandoned facility located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
On a first sight you have the impression of starring at a fortress, a castle. A stronghold with big and intimidating walls, watchtowers on every corner and a huge front door. Resisting trough the years, they guard the entrance to a very distinct world from what we know.
In a system where every kind of outlaw, from petty pickpockets to cruel murders, were treated as sunken human beings, without chance of regret, forgiveness or rehab. The Eastern State Penitentiary born as the ideal place for to recover a criminal, trough penitence.
The cells where once children, women and men accused of every sort of crime could be found, were replaced by private rooms with a toilet. Not even the White House had running water by that time. But the Eastern State Penitentiary inmates do.
A skylight allowed the “light of God” to reach the prisoner. Faith, isolation, work and silence led to the perfect equation for penitence. At least, that was the main goal of the most expensive American building on the 19th century. Not a prison, a penitentiary.
The innovations proposed by this new line of thinking, made the Eastern State Penitentiary world famous. A new incarceration standard for architecture, processes and how to deal with inmates was set. The prison lived its “golden years” until the total decay in 1980.
The scene now is very different. The yards, crowded by prisoners, are abandoned. The cells, home of most disturbed minds, empty. The strategic position, former taken by guards, now has seated guides, ready to answer any question. The Eastern State Penitentiary, once known for not allowing visitors, now is open to the public.
Although this place do not serve as a jail anymore it is possible to feel the heavy atmosphere. The facilities provide hours of walk and reflection about what those walls have experienced. It is interesting to pay attention at the details. Scratches on the walls, suggests sometimes an angry prisoner others someone counting the days. The bath chambers and barbershop give you clues of the daily routine while standing by the cells of the death row, lets you experiment a bit of the tension held within the walls of the Eastern State Penitentiary
All the tour is complemented with an audio guide. The details are very well explained and you learn, among other things, that the building that made some offenders go nuts was similar to a SPA to others. The famous Al Capone was held in a “luxury” cell and walked on those halls for 9 months. When asked how was his experience on the Eastern State Penitentiary, “like a hotel”, he said.
For those who visit the state of Pennsylvania this is definitely a place to go. If you have the opportunity to be near Philadelphia, include the Eastern State Penitentiary on your plans. It is an unique experience, cheap and off the beaten path that besides that, makes you realize how wonderful is the life out here.