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Sean Kelley- Senior Vice President, Director of Interpretation of Eastern State Penitentiary Download

Download June 27th, 2018

Sean Kelley, Senior Vice President and Director of Interpretation at Eastern State Penitentiary, discussed the historic site in Center City Philadelphia.   He described its building in 1829 as part of our founding fathers’ ideas on prison reform, substituting reflection and contemplation in solitude for the then standard of whipping or stocks and placing men, women and children together in a common cell.   He spoke on how its wheel-spoke structure kept prisoner in total solitude, with no contact from even the guards.   It drew visitors and observers from all over the world as a model prison, even the Marquis de Lafayette and Charles Dickens decried the horror of its solitary confinement.   He discussed how it became a traditional prison in the 1920s and described some of the inmates and some of the features of the building, including a hospital and workshops, as well as its over-crowding and escapes and riots.   The prison was abandoned in 1971, and Kelley spoke about its rescue by preservationists and historians, and the decision to open it before renovating it.  Today many cells, including Al Capone’s, the chapel, the synagogue  and parts of the hospital are restored.  Kelley described an important part of it new mission, interpreting incarceration and instigating conversation about prisons, punishment, race and criminal justice.  To start that dialogue ESP now presents installations and exhibits,  including its award-winning exhibit, Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, and rotating art installations on the prison experience by over 100 artists from across the country.

Eastern State Penitentiary

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