Monday, July 05, 2004

Where I’ve been recently

Eastern State Penitentiary (more)
No, the government hasn't caught up with me for opposing the Iraq war and the Patriot Act. This prison has been closed since 1971 and is now a museum. You can take an impressive 360° virtual tour through the first link. Especially in its condition now as a ruin it captures an aspect of my mediæval imagination but it's really a monument to the failures of modern-style social engineering. A well-meaning prison-reform society that included Quakers (the founders of Pennsylvania) and Bishop William White, one of America's first Anglican bishops, thought that keeping all prisoners in solitary confinement would reform them - by the way the name 'penitentiary' comes from the idea that prisoners were penitents - and keep them from getting more involved in crime if kept apart from other inmates, and so built Eastern along those lines in the early 1800s. It didn't work - I think the result was the inmates often went mad, and Charles Dickens (the only known statue of whom is in Philadelphia - he didn't want one) protested it in his writings. By the late 1800s it was a normal prison, but not before the idea had been copied in other places including Britain and Russia. A now-departed friend was a prison guard and worked there in 1970-71 after the state moved out and the city used it briefly.

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