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Monday, September 28, 2015

The Eastern State Penitentiary - America's Most Historic Prison

Experience an interesting guided tour of the world's first true "penitentiary" when you are around Philly area. The Eastern State Penitentiary is located on the corner of 22nd and Fairmount Ave., just 5 blocks away from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) has a soaring castle-like Gothic architecture, with a Quaker-inspired design system of isolation that was finally opened in 1829.

It extends up to 11 acres in size equipped with central heat, running water, and flushing toilets, making it once the most famous and expensive prison in the world.
The founders of the penitentiary believed that solitary confinement could reform convicts through strict isolation, inspiring penitence and true regret.
ESP was built in a way resembling a church with each cell containing a Bible and a skylight representing as the "eye of God". It purposely was designed to rehabilitate rather than punish, pushing the convicts toward spiritual reflection and change. ESP was the first one to use solitary confinement, because reformists believed that isolation will lead to reflection and ultimately penitence, thus it came up with the word "penitentiary".
But the effect of solitary made many convicts become insane instead. The existence of tortuos punishments of the inmates carried by the prison's staff also contributed to this.

After 142 years of use as a penitentiary, ESP finally shut its doors in 1971.

Today, as you start walking through its corridors, you will witness the deteriorating effects of the decaying corridors as it nears 2 decades of abandonment. Nowadays, it stands in ruins with crumbling cell blocks and empty guard towers.

ESP also once held many of America's most notorious criminals, including famous gangster, Al Capone and bank robber Willie Sutton ("Slick Willie"). 
Al Capone's cell is still on display for viewing, which was restored as a 19th century cell. While he spent his sentence in the penitentiary, he was allowed to furnish his cell with rugs, antique furnishings and oil paintings, making him spent most of his sentence in a relative comfort at the Eastern state.

Al Capone's Cell

Tours include a glimpse of how was life like inside the prison's historic cell blocks. You can also choose to do the guided tour by one of the staff, an audio tour if you prefer to  do it at your own pace, or choose the "Terror Behind The Walls."