Eastern State Penitentiary: A History in Prison Reform

4 April 2015
A complete history of the construction of Eastern State Penitentiary and an exploration of the famous inmates and stories that are associated with the prison.

A detailed paper that outlines the history of one of Philadelphia’s national historical landmarks, Eastern State Penitentiary. The author describes the history of its philosophy and construction, as well as facts regarding the massive penitentiary.
Construction began on May in 1822. The penitentiary received its first prisoner in October of 1829, though the prison would not be completed until 1836. Eighteen-year-old Charles Williams was Eastern’s first prisoner, sentenced to two years for theft. The identity of Charles Williams disappeared, there was now only prisoner number one in his place. As he was walked to his cell, a black hood was placed over his head, to protect his identity and to help minimize escapes. The only person to see an inmate was a guard who brought meals to an inmate, which were deposited through a slot in the door. The walls were eighteen inches of thick stone. Pastors and ministers would make rounds to Eastern State on a weekly basis, reading scriptures and preaching sermons, but even for this, inmates remained in their cells. Inmates were not allowed to converse, whistle, sing, or even know who the president was at the time. Any inmate not obeying these strict rules were deprived of dinner that night. However, during the exercising sessions, inmates would throw pebbles over the walls with a note attached to communicate with other prisoners.
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