We were all struck by our time at Eastern State Penitentiary. The feature of the museum that struck everyone the most were the cells that visitors could step inside of. Seeing the cramped quarters prisoners had to live in for years on end humanized the prisoners that we had previously only been able to read about. We had a real taste of the uneasiness that prisoners must have felt, kept for years in small cells with only a little light. Stepping into the cold stone cells gave us a physical reality in which to apply our knowledge from our research. Our tour of the prison also showed us that the reform ideas of prison did not succeed in practice. The prison could not fulfill its goals of solitude and silence when faced with the challenge of overpopulation. By the end of Eastern’s time, its goals and functions were almost unrecognizable from its original purpose. The museum showed this change over time because the cell blocks that were constructed later on had to take a step away from the complete solitude and separation that was the initial goal of the institution. The final feature of the exhibit that we appreciated was the museum’s effort to relate the goals and failures of Eastern State to the current issue of mass incarceration.
– Lucy O’Brien, Catherine Imossi, Margaret Douglass, Daniel Nasta, Casey Robinson, Emily Davancens, Daniel Magaldi, Fiona Whalen, Abigail Cross, Liam Haber, Abigail Wheat, Briana Boland, Brandon Satz-Jacobowitz, Caleb Rodrigues.
Photograph by Daniel Nasta.