Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday Favorites: Hard Time

Back in the early 2000’s, MTV used to air an amazingly awesome reality show called Fear. The basic premise entailed a team of kids completing dares at supposedly haunted locations, while recording themselves to see if they could capture paranormal activity. Every Sunday night, my brother and I would plant ourselves in front of the TV to watch kids get terrified as they explored scary places in the dark. One of the locations had always stuck out to us and since it was close enough to NYC, we said we’d get there someday. For me, that someday came three years ago.

Eastern State Penitentiary is located in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Considered the world’s first true penitentiary, Eastern State was in use from 1829 to 1970. All inmates at Eastern State were put in solitary confinement and only allowed to spend an hour (isolated, of course) out of their small cells . Whenever they left their cell, they’d have a hood on as to not be recognized as a former criminal once they were released. This new prison system of uniform solitary confinement is referred to as the Pennsylvania System. The thought process was that if a criminal was left alone to reflect on their crime, that they would become genuinely penitent. Famous prisoners include Willie Sutton and Al Capone.

We took the audio tour (narrated by Steve Buscemi!) and were allowed roam around the grounds freely. I was shocked to see how small the actual prison cells were. I’m just over 5 feet tall and I had to duck to fit into the small doorway. Spending endless nights here must have been awful.

For me, the creepiest part of Eastern State was death row. Although no one was actually put to death at the prison, this is where some of the most hardened criminals spent some time. And this is the one place in the entire prison that I experienced that really weird, ‘hard to breathe’ sensation and I definitely did not want to stick around to see what might happen next.

Another of the scarier places was The Hole. Now, I used to watch Oz and let me tell you, the Hole on that show looked like the Plaza Hotel compared to the Hole at Eastern State. If you were punished and put in the Hole, you had to climb down into the dark pit and were left without food or human contact for up to 14 days. One prisoner actually came out blind!

Just hearing the stories about the history of the prison and its methods of reformation made me totally understand why there are so many reports of hauntings here. While I would NEVER in a million years step foot in Eastern State at night, you can certainly experience a very eerie feeling there during the day.

Eastern State Penitentiary - 2027 Fairmount Avenue between Corinthian Avenue and North 22nd Street .

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