Conditions At The Eastern State Penitentiary

1285 words - 6 pages

It is 1787 in the home of Benjamin Franklin where a group of powerful Philadelphians held in high esteem have congregated to deliberate a very pressing issue. They are conversing on the present prison institutions established across America and Europe. It seems that the institutions in both countries are known for their appalling conditions. Benjamin Franklin and his colleagues have set out to change the course of prison history. Their plan is to make a prison system based entirely on reform and enlightenment instead of punishment and misery. They believe prisoners should repent and seek God to help them learn from their mistakes, hence the name penitentiary. After many long years, the men ...view middle of the document...

These outstanding conditions were in fact better than most other prisons of the time. But as in many cases, crime began to pick up and previous policies were put on hold.
Consequently, due to overcrowding the “one inmate per cell” rule was quickly abandoned and the number of inmates per cell grew to three or four (“General Overview”). The inmate quarters quickly became cramped and the prisoner’s solitude was over. At its closing in 1971, this prison designed for a mere three-hundred inmate housed close to two-thousand of them (Woodham, Internet). Many cellblocks were added onto the previous structure to accommodate for the unforeseen intensification in the number of inmates. The condition of the cells got progressively worse with every addition to the penitentiary. The worst group of cells constructed at the Eastern State Penitentiary earned the nickname Klondike or The Hole (General Overview). These cells were completely underground which means there was no plumbing or source of light so the captives were in complete darkness; the Klondike cell were basically unmentioned dungeons (Woodham, Internet).
In addition, the mere construction of the Eastern State Penitentiary was enough to scare the prisoners as they served their time. One source recalls the “grim, castle-like walls” of the Penitentiary towering above (Hospital Block). With massive walls and castle like construction, the Eastern State Penitentiary was said to have a haunting feeling to the inmates who spent most of their lives within its confines (Eastern State). In very little time, the Eastern State Penitentiary went from being the best prison in the world to one of the most feared. Benjamin Franklin’s vision took a turn for the worse, and the most negative conditions had not even begun yet.
In the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, disease was spreading wildly throughout the United States leaving a path of deathly sick Americans; consequently, the Eastern State Penitentiary was not indifferent from the rest of the country. “At first it was better than anywhere else,” claims one source (Hospital Block). But soon fever, fatigue, and night sweats began to spread throughout the penitentiary. Tuberculosis claimed its first life in 1830 and continued to do so for centuries to come (Hospital Block). The various doctors and nurses of the hospital block struggled to keep diseases like Tuberculosis under control, but their efforts did not make much of a difference. By 1887, twenty-one inmate deaths, or seventy-eight percent of the deaths at the prison, were attributed to this disease (Hospital Block). Sunshine and fresh air was advised to help stop the spread of germs, so in 1922 the Solarium, a dome made of windows, was built above the hospital block in hopes to cure the near-death patients (Hospital Block). But nonetheless consumption, or Tuberculosis, spread rapidly in the penitentiary...

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