Today, Good Friday, two friends and I toured Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. It was a fascinating experience that raised many questions in my mind. First, I wondered about the women who had been imprisoned there for almost a hundred years, until 1923, then I wondered what were the most commonly committed crimes. Last, I wondered what had happened to Riverfront Prison on the Camden City waterfront? That prison was only built in the mid 1980's, so why was it closed, demolished and disappeared in such a short time?
When I looked up New Jersey State prisons, I discovered that there were 13, and in addition, county prisons are also still being used. I didn't find out much about women at Eastern except for the name and story of one woman who was the last one incarcerated at Eastern. Her crime was murder. She poisoned her husband and was given 20 years. They moved her to Muncy.
Naturally I took a lot of photos, but it is late and I'm tired so I'll be posting the photos on Sunday because tomorrow I'll be hiking in the Pine Barrens with friends while the beautiful weather is here.
I recommend you visit Eastern, though it is a depressing place, full of the residue of shame, regret, and wasted lives.
As for what happened at Riverfront in Camden, the closes I can come to an answer was that it was cheaper to move the inmates into other crowded prisons and close this one, saving several million dollars a year in operating costs, and opening the possibility of selling the site for residential property development which was a deeply hoped for outcome on the part of Camden residents. I didn't figure out how much they spent building that prison but it was only 20 years old - what a waste! That is an economic crime in and of itself.
Something I like to do in museums is pick my favorite one item, or lace or fact. All of us chose the tiny, doll size set of eating utensils in the "Pop-Up Museum" as our favorite item. It was carved from bones found in the carver/inmate's soup. We also found the synagog interestin. It was created by the benevolence of Philadelphia for Jewish businessmen for Jewish inmates so that should they desire a spiritual retreat, they wouldn't be forced to attend a Christian service. Naturally I wondered how many Jewish inmates there were - not many! But one, Morris "the Rabbi" Bolber, was head of a poison ring that was accused of killing at least 30 people in a scheme to get spouses to conspire in the murders to collect insurance money.
In my opinion, it is NOT the appropriate place to hold a party, which I understand is a fund raising strategy there. To party in a place still redolent of despair, hopelessness, depravity and human damage, seems improper. I'm glad I visited during the day and in the spring. On a dark day or during their scary Halloween tours, this could be a deeply disturbing historic site visit. Nonetheless it stirs many other interests such as the history of society's methods for dealing with crime, and the architecture of separating criminals from the public and either punishing or rehabilitating them.
Another opinion: We could save a LOT of money if we let the pot-smokers out of jail. Also, sentence them to community service where they can be of use to the public instead of a drain on our over burdened tax payers.
Happy Trails, Stay out of Jails!