In March 2015 a trip to Philadelphia, PA, USA took us to Eastern State Penitentiary. ESP was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Originally inspired by humanistic principles of the Enlightenment period. It was to be a true penitentiary, a prison designed to create genuine regret and penitence in the criminal's heart.
Views of it's intent and success varied from the opening in 1829. Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont reported to the French government in 1831: “Thrown into solitude... [the prisoner] reflects. Placed alone, in view of his crime, he learns to hate it; and if his soul be not yet surfeited with crime, and thus have lost all taste for any thing better, it is in solitude, where remorse will come to assail him.... Can there be a combination more powerful for reformation than that of a prison which hands over the prisoner to all the trials of solitude, leads him through reflection to remorse, through religion to hope; makes him industrious by the burden of idleness.." While Charles Dickens recounted in 1842: “In its intention I am well convinced that it is kind, humane, and meant for reformation; but I am persuaded that those who designed this system of Prison Discipline, and those benevolent gentleman who carry it into execution, do not know what it is that they are doing....I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body; and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye,... and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment in which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.”
In 1913 the Pennsylvania System was abandoned and Eastern State became a prison.