Eastern State Penitentiary (“My only way out is to go so far in, billowing out to somewhere.”)

The stone walls surrounding the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia extend ten feet below the surface of the ground.  There is only one entrance through the walls and into the prison.

Construction began on the foundations and walls in 1822.  Seven years later, laws were passed allowing “separate or solitary confinement at labor”.  That same year, 1829, the prison opened its doors and admitted its first inmate.

At the time, many leaders believed that crime was the result of environment, and that solitude would make criminals regretful and penitent.  During rare trips outside of their cells, prisoners would be forced to wear masks to keep them from communicating.  Cells had small “feed doors” and individual exercise yards to prevent contact between inmates and to minimize contact between inmates and guards.

It didn’t take long for Eastern State Penitentiary to reach capacity.  Additionally, people believed that keeping prisoners in intense isolation induced mental illness as opposed to leading to the spiritual actualization and social reform it intended.  By 1913, this belief, along with the overcrowding, caused the prison to abandon the solitary system.

A little over thirty years after Eastern State Penitentiary became a congregate prison, inmate and plaster worker Clarence Klinedinst began planning his escape.  Klinedinst was well-liked by prison staff, and so they allowed him to bring his tools with him to his cell each day after work.  Over the course of a year and a half, Klinedinst dug a tunnel of approximately 100 feet from his cell, under the prison wall, and out to freedom.  The tunnel was equipped with supports, fans, and even lights.  Klinedinst disposed of the excess dirt but filtering it through a tube he inserted into his commode, ensuring that it filtered directly into the sewage system.

On the morning of April 3, 1945, Klinedinst escaped through his tunnel along with twelve other inmates.  All of the men were recaptured, most within a few hours.  At the time of the escape, Klinedinst had two years left to serve.  After his re-arrest, he had ten years added to his sentence.  For the remainder of his time at Eastern State, prison guards (obviously) did not allow Klinedinst to bring his tools with him to his cell each day.

I’ve been feeling strange lately.  Introverted.  Everything is a little off.  It’s like I need to run away and just think, which is confusing to me because I think so much already.

I feel like I’m digging my way into the penitentiary.

In 1965 Federal Government designated Eastern State Penitentiary a National Historic Landmark.  Five years later, inmates were relocated to other correctional institutions and the Eastern State Penitentiary closed its doors as a prison.  It was left completely abandoned until stabilization and preservation efforts began in 1991.  In 1994, Eastern State opened for daily historic tours.

Eastern State Penitentiary (above), Clarence Klinedinst (below)

One Response to “Eastern State Penitentiary (“My only way out is to go so far in, billowing out to somewhere.”)”

  1. February 13th, 2004 (Entry # 1) | Keep My Words Says:

    [...] I don’t know if I’ve been feeling uninspired or introverted. [...]

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