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pialikesowls's picture

I could see the lonely walls, which have witnessed too much. I could see the abandoned floor, which has been victim of pacing and madness. I could see the abused door, which has been the tool of solitude and punishment since 1829. I could see the Eye of God, but didn’t feel as if that could save me. I felt the bulge of my smart phone in the back pocket of my jeans. Resisting the urge to check if I had any messages, I sighed and looked around the room for the umpteenth time. My time in the Eastern State Penitentiary was merely a fraction of what the prisoners in the past had spent; however, in this day and age, with technology and our decreasing attention spans, it felt as if I was in there for months.

Our dependency on technology makes it difficult for us to stay still for long periods of time. These days, it is almost impossible to go a day without consulting some kind of machine or device. Letters have been replaced by emails, which have been replaced by text messages. Instead of waiting seven days to receive a letter from a friend, we now only have to wait seven seconds. We have developed an intolerance of anything that takes longer than a few moments, and this is why half an hour alone in a nineteenth-century prison cell seems like such torture to my generation.

    Eastern State Penitentiary was operational during a time when patience was just a part of everyday life, from 1829 up to 1971. I pictured a convict in the miniscule room. Would he or she be looking up at the Eye of God, begging for forgiveness, or would he or she be regretting his or her faith in Him in the first place? Was it really possibly to save and change a man who has stolen a horse? The idea of penance is awfully optimistic, as not everyone has the capability or the desire to better him or herself. As a result of this solitude, many convicts went insane, as the loneliness was driving them crazy. Perhaps it would have the same effect if a teenager wasn’t allowed on his or her phone for a certain period of time.

I spent less than half an hour in the cell, I admit. I restricted myself to the front part of the cell, right next to the door. This may have hindered my ability to truly experience the cell, but I was okay with that, since I was almost scared to death at the prospect of spending more than a few seconds in there in the first place. The initial few minutes were terrifying; I wasn’t sure what I was scared of, but I still felt nervous and slightly agitated.

Perhaps I was frightened of the fact that I wouldn’t be able to use my cell phone for an extended period of time – as in, more than two minutes. I am constantly checking my text messages, Facebook, Instagram, emails… the list is endless. I am always flooded in a sea of notifications, photographs, and messages, and spending time in the cell was a real test of patience and an opportunity for me to think. So, I thought. I thought about my text messages, Facebook, Instagram, and my emails. I thought about what was happening in my pocket, in my device, in cyberspace. I knew that this half hour was important in forcing me to think about how technological dependency is slowly killing us, making us impatient and often “bored”. But we aren’t bored; we have trained ourselves in thinking that free time equates checking our phones and using our computers. We are so scared of not having anything to “like” or “retweet” that we are persistently online.

After a few minutes, I adjusted to the room. I inched further into the cell. The silence was a little unnerving at first, but I got used to it, and ultimately appreciated the fact that I got to spend some alone time with my thoughts. My normally busy mind was at ease, and if I weren’t scared to break it, I would have sat down on the box next to the bed. What would a convict, in his first half hour in that cell, have thought? I doubt it would have been anything positive; I didn’t feel the desire to change myself or offer penance. Did Eastern State actually succeed at all in saving those who had committed crimes?

After my time in prison, I finally pulled my cell phone out of my pocket, catching myself up on several minutes’ worth of news. I checked my text messages, Facebook, Instagram, and my emails. Nothing interested popped up. However, I still felt a huge relief, thankful for the reunion with something I couldn’t live without. Perhaps convicts who were finally released felt the same way about their sanity.