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Incandescent | by Sandra Herber
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This is one of the solitary cells found in Eastern State Penitentiary. There is virtually no movement of air through these cells, and little more through the cellblock itself. The heat was incandescent. I felt like I was getting a really authentic, though momentary, experience, of being a prisoner here in the heat of the summer. Sweat was pouring down my face and the heat was fogging up my glasses, which made it incredibly difficult to compose images!


Eastern State Penitentiary was built in 1829 and abandoned in 1971. In 1994 it was reopened as a museum. Though I did go into the public areas to photograph this amazing facility, I also got permission to access two non-public areas: Cellblock 12 and Cellblock 14. For me, these were the highlight of the visit.


When it was built, Eastern State Penitentiary was a state of the art facility, at least in part because it was dedicated to rehabilitation rather than simply punishment or retribution (‘penitentiary’ derived from the word ‘penitent’). It is a prime example of the Separate System (or the Pennsylvania System) in which prisoners were held in individual cells, forbidden to speak to each other or the guards and only allowed outside for two 30-minute breaks per day in individual exercise yards. Their time spent in silent, solitary contemplation was supposed to aid in their rehabilitation.

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Taken on August 5, 2012