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Is this practical?

Cathy Zhou's picture



Is this practical?

I heard the penitentiary from my roommate, who wants to go to a haunted house and flattered that there’s real ghost in there. The two days after that our trip of Esem announced the next station: Eastern State Penitentiary. I was surprised that a prison, at least from my point a prison, could become such an attraction.

My first impression of this prison is odd: how could it be such a castle? But when I entered the building, it began to look like a prison: dirty ground, damaged walls, narrow hall ways. The whole place is a conflict: A place of aesthetic beauty from outside. A place of scare and regret from inside.

The audio tour shows that this place has always been on debate in multiple ways.

When it was first built, the supporters claim it is supporting an “idea”, that everyone is born good, and could be changed with instructions. It is a very idealistic concept to try to change those already guilty. In fact, there’s too much not considered in this simple “idea”.

 But most of the journalists, the visitors who were once in there, found it unbearable. The small room, the silence, all led people to frown. This seems to be against humanity. Actually I saw none of the lens writing positively last Tuesday, which is the same to me. If anyone wants to choose a place to instruct people, it’s not supposed to be here. The condition is totally terrible, compared to a normal place anyone would live in. A small room with a bed and a toilet that flushes once a day, there’s not even a window on the side to see the change of the season--- that was all the prisoners have. In the video we watched in the cell, it shows the way how they take shower: the overseer used a pipe to wash the prisoners across the railings. The man just stood still, waiting for an order asks him to turn back. He’s not humiliated or interested by his condition, just numb. And that’s what ESP turned them to. They have to stay numb to pass time. Like Buried Lives noticed, they only think the conversations with instructor a good way to pass loneliness. It’s hard to have

For the government, the unease to come up and realize this idea is also a hard decision. ESP was already a better place than other prisons, with the air-conditioning, heating, water serving. The prison is not a normal commercial area when it was first built: it’s a government-sponsored, non-profit building. Although for some reason it’s built like a castle, but not that much funds are likely to be provided for a prison (even it’s a renovation, it’s still for the same purpose with prisons- crime punishment). Even when everyone critiques the horrible condition of the building, it’s still a huge amount of budget, which could be used in many other areas. In fact, people are more willing to pay their tax to something they found practical and able to make a difference: education, railroads, housing subsidies…Prisons might not be the point of focus. But prison is an important part of the country, as a better way to approach the country’s goal of security. Eastern State is a good starting point for some changes different from punishment. It’s pushing the criminals to think about their fault by putting them into silence and having them make shoes for themselves. If it stays for longer, the government might come up with some way to improve the inner condition and find a way to make people better without the maddening isolation.

ESP might be having a more effective way to manage the criminals, but criminals are probably the hardest to manage in the country. They are people who have already done crimes. When they’re gathered at the same place, there’s hardly a way to prevent them from influencing each other. Like Anne said, it’s would teach a murderer to steal. From this point, isolation is a good idea for them, but it made the loneliness inevitable. The other problem is the punishment by overseers, which should not exist there. The overseers themselves are not instructive enough and are finding things in common with the prisoners. Several ways of punishments include meal reduction and iron gag. There was a prisoner died in there because the prison officials punished him with iron gag. It is a cruel place.

When we’re about to leave the prison, there’s a part where the audio tour guide said, the penitentiary is now in danger of being taken over by more profitable building and we should support the reserve of the place as a historical museum. But it’s not really known as a museum now, it’s a haunted house, like my roommate said with a sparkle in her eyes.

The prison is trying to follow the idea of the Quakers, but it could not be practical in that time period. There was too much limit in government supports and public attention. And it’s now serving as a museum but makes money in Halloween by doing a haunted house. It has some historical alerts to people, that changing is not that easy. Now the place serves as another view point of the history, as the prison is a reflection of the culture. Although the place is claimed unpractical, one reminder is that it is also just another prison. Not better or worse, a way to punish those against law. Maybe everyone says it’s cruel, it’s wrong, but it’s really just the same as reality. How practical could it be?