SU Social Work Students Visit ESP


What’s the move  on Mass Incarceration?

On Friday, Nov. 18, Salisbury University social work students traveled to Philadelphia, PA to visit the Eastern State Penitentiary, take a tour through the closed-down facility, and take a poverty tour through an impoverished community.

The facility opened in 1829 as an American state prison and closed in 1970. Its mission was to removed corporal punishment and ill treatment and focus on work and learning trades. ESP used the Quaker-style method of punishment and emphasized isolation from other inmates, spiritual reflection and awakening, and change.

Tour-guides, professors, and students discussed causes and solutions to Mass Incarceration and what the penitentiary could have done differently and changes they would like to see. Many agree that more services and prevention efforts are the best measures that helping professions can take to help slow down the cycle of incarceration.


Inmates within the Eastern State Penitentiary(ESP) visited the barber shop that was located in their corridor. These locations morphed into hangout spots for inmates as they were intensely isolated throughout their sentences.


Officials at ESP equipped each cell with one cot, one foam mattress, one pillow, and one “wash-up” station. Inmates were locked into their cells for 23 out of 24 every day and time away from the cell was contingent upon the guards’ decisions. The facility and the cells were heated, which was a luxury that most working and upper class citizens did not have during the mid 1800s when the prison opened.


Scarce storage space existed within the penitentiary. Closet items contained blankets and sheets for cell-holders as well as other toiletries.


The average stay at ESP in the early 1800s after the opening was 2 to 3 years. Initial charges consisted of theft, horse-theft, pick-pocketing, and other minor offenses. Later, in the early 1900s, sentences would increase to 20 to 30 years or life in prison. Charges associated with longer sentences involved first and second degree murder. The pictures above are portraits of murder victims that were killed by inmates at ESP. These are on display in an art-scape cell.


The patch of dirt to the left in this photo may appear as dead grass and warn land; however, it represents the space of home-plate. ESP residents were allowed to play baseball in this outdoor recreation baseball field on special occasions.


Hallways of ESP are set up as corridors. Nine corridors are placed on two levels of the penitentiary. The corridors are positioned in a sun-shape around a central location. This architecture served the purpose of guards being able to see down each hallway and know what is going on at all times. The architecture was also made to mirror church-like structures in hopes that it would inspire spiritual awakenings among the residents. However, they did not actually see the details or formations due to their rooms not having windows. Even the feeding gate was a solid door.


This visual aid graph is placed in the middle of the aforementioned baseball field and outdoor recreation area of ESP. The 1970 column indicates the opening and closing of the state penitentiary. As seen above, rates of Mass Incarceration more than doubled from 1980 to 1990. Currently, in 2016, more than 2.3 million people are being held in American facilities.


In addition to residents of ESP receiving their own cells, they also had access to their own “backyards” which could only be accessed through their cells. Guards allowed residents to spend one full hour of exercise time per day in their backyards.


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