My talk with Lauren Zalut, Director of Education and Tour Programs in Cell Block 12 at historic Eastern State Penitentiary is something I will never forget. Taping in an empty cell block, still showing the remnants of former inmates and the contents of their cells, tells a story that echoes in your soul just as the sound of taping on site echoed with the empty halls.
Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone.
When Eastern State opened more than 180 years ago, it changed the world. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. The building itself was an architectural wonder; it had running water and central heat before the White House and attracted visitors from around the globe.
Eastern State Penitentiary’s innovative preservation, interpretation, and public programs will move visitors to engage in dialogue and deepen the national conversation about criminal justice.
Learn more about Eastern State Penitentiary at https://www.easternstate.org and when you visit Philadelphia, make sure to add this to your itinerary!