Eastern State Penitentiary, a Quaker-inspired prison opened in 1829, will be the topic at Newtown Quaker Meeting adult class (www.newtownfriendsmeeting.org) on Court Street at 9:45 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, followed by meeting for worship based on expectant silence from 11 a.m. to noon.
Using archival photographs, Newtown Quaker Meeting member Tony Wolf will explain how early reformers attempted to replace harsh punishment with rehabilitation.
Believing that “there is God in every person,” Quaker founders proposed a system of solitary confinement to allow the prisoner to reflect and repent. Each inmate was housed in his own individual cell with running water, a toilet and a workbench beneath a tiny skylight referred to as the “eye of God.” Behind each cell was a private exercise yard where the inmate could spend one hour daily in solitary activity.
As visitors flocked to ESP to marvel at its architecture and learn of its new approach, critics debated the use of solitary confinement. The critics prevailed and the “Pennsylvania system” was abandoned in favor of the congregate system in use today. The good intentions of the founders had led to cruelty and abuse.
In operation for 142 years, the prison was decrepit and beyond repair when the state closed it in 1971. Historians and preservationists successfully managed to restore the site as a “stabilized ruin” and it has been open for educational tours since 1994.
Newtown Friends Meeting is open to all who wish to attend.