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Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, PA) | penitence

Eastern State Penitentiary - Matthew Christopher's Abandoned America
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when the building began in 1822,
it was the first penitentiary ever
a radically new idea for the confinement of prisoners.
the outside of the building resembles a castle, to
make it intimidating, to deter those who saw it from crime,
yet the interior's architecture was patterned after a cathedral's.
the idea was penitence.

you wore a bag over your head as
you were led to your tiny one occupant cell,
and when the door closed behind you,
you would have no more human contact for the duration of your stay.
when you came in, it was to a world of silence.
the wheels of the food carts had leather treads
and the guards wore covers over their shoes
so that there was no sound as
you were fed a meal that arrived through a slot in the door.
there was to be no noise, nothing
to distract you from the crushing weight of your own soul,
nothing to keep you from endlessly pondering
what you had done, or perhaps did not do,
that got you into the penitentiary.

what would you think about, for those two years
or five years, or twenty?
how many times would you sort over and over
through the same memories, the same songs,
the same madness and misery?
with no contact with the outside world or any humanity at all,
how long would it take for your spirit to break?
as the days slowly passed into weeks and months and years,
would you do exercises to improve your chances
of seeing another barren day,
or would you batter yourself against the walls
to vainly ask for the mercy of release?

a single slit in the ceiling, enough to allow a shaft of light,
would be your only answer.
perhaps in the shadows of your fleeting sanity you might see
something that resembled absolution, if only for a second.
perhaps somehow you'd find it in your heart not to curse god
and yourself and the men who had thrown you away,
walled you off, wadded your mouth full of all your empty years
until there was nothing more to say or do,
nothing more to be.
perhaps then you would be forgiven.

the idea was penitence.

Photograph taken at Eastern State Penitentiary, 2006 by Matthew Christopher of Abandoned America.

Also in: Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, PA) | Infinite Arches
Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, PA) | A Presumption of Guilt
Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, PA) | Cell Block Stairs
Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, PA) | Cell Doors
Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, PA) | Mind the Gap
Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, PA) | Off Limits
Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, PA) | Tunnel of Light
Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, PA) | Overview
Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, PA) | Kitchen Ruins
Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, PA) | Guard Tower