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Eastern State

natschall's picture

Eastern State Penitentiary was created by the Quakers in order to make the prisoners better people. The Quakers believed that, if treated in the correct way, the prisoners would reflect on themselves, see that they were wrong, and repent for their sins.This did not happen. Prisoners began rebelling almost as soon as the prison opened.

Eastern State, from the outside, seemed orderly and exactly like a prison that others should (and did) try to imitate. On the inside, however, Eastern State was edging towards chaos, with not many things going correctly. In Eastern State, it was never quite clear who ruled the prison, the guards or the prisoners. This grey-area dynamic made it close to impossible to keep the prisoners under control. Indeed, some of the guards did not even try to make it clear that they were in charge, and did things like play chess with the prisoners while they were supposed to be walking the halls.

Prisoners were never meant to be punished; the Quaker reformers thought that isolation was enough to make the prisoners feel remorse for what they had done. But the guards did resort to physical or emotional punishment when prisoners acted up.

Eastern State tried to strip prisoners of any individuality they may have retained. There was meant to be no one to talk to besides a minister who would come to the cells to try to reform or convert the prisoners.

Inmates were so desperate to escape, and had so little to do, that some of them spent an entire year digging their way out of their cell (twelve total escaped, though not all helped dig the tunnel), only to be mostly recaptured within a couple weeks.