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The Quaker Vision

mmanzone's picture

The Quaker Vision

Eastern State Penitentiary will be a place of silent reflection.  It will be a place where criminals can think about their crimes and truly be penitent.  A prison unlike all others in operation; instead of storing criminals just to remove them from society (Bowditch 3) or abusing them into reformation, Eastern State Penitentiary will be a place that encourages penitence and a reconnection to God and goodness.  

The exterior of the building, with its medieval appearance, tall walls, gargoyles and turrets, should instill fear of the world behind it (“General Overview”).  The interior, however, is reminiscent of churches or cathedrals: tall vaulted hallways; arched windows and skylights.

There are strict rules for the running of Eastern State that will allow prisoners to realize the ugliness of their ways and rediscover the good within themselves most effectively.   Prisoners will have only themselves, guards, and God to communicate with; the entire prison will be silent.  They will not be abused in any physical manner, as the goal is not to harm them but rather to bring them back to goodness and into society.  

Each prisoner is to have a separate cell, as it is not enough to simply lock up criminals in what are essentially large holding pens.  This holding pen or storage system does not encourage penitence or reformation and instead encourages, in many cases, more and worse crimes. These cells should not be comfortable places but should also not be incredibly harsh.  The goal is not to punish the inmates or make them believe they are unwanted in society; it is to show them the darkness of their ways and guide them back to the light.  Each cell is to be heated with running water and a flushable toilet, so as not to make the small room unlivable.  Every cell must also have an individual exercise yards available to the prisoners at their own free will.  Most importantly, however, each cell is to have a sky light, allowing only the light of God to be with the prisoners as they search their souls and rediscover the good within their hearts.  They should have other connections to God, such as a Bible and honest work made available to them within their cells.

Eastern State Penitentiary will become a standard by which all prisons should be built and, in some ways, this goal was accomplished.  There are many prisons all over the world that were designed and modeled after Eastern State and many believe the “Pennsylvania system” to be superior to the “Auburn system” when it comes to the running of prisons (Bowditch 13).  In other ways, however, the ideals that Eastern State was meant to embody did not shine through.  The grand plan of the Quakers failed.  What was designed to rehabilitate criminals not through harsh physical or extensive psychological torture but rather through isolation and silence became a place to drive prisoners mad.  Reformers disagreed with the idea of confinement leading back to God and argued that it reduced the inmates’ abilities to reintegrate into society upon release, as was the goal.  

Works Cited

Bowditch, Christine. "Teaching Guide to Eastern State Penitentiary." Verstehen Video Project, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.

"General Overview." Eastern State Penitentiary. Eastern State Penitentiary, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.