Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Vacation flashback

We're on vacation.  We're at my sister's house in New Jersey for the Fourth of July.  She lives just a quick hop over the Ben Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia, so on the first day of vacation, we took a little "field trip" over the river and through the city.  Our main stop was the Eastern State Penitentiary, located a few blocks from the Art Museum:

My photo before entering Eastern Penitentiary.
Eastern State Penitentiary 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.
Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of convicts. (Eastern State Penitentiary home page)
The whole place is disturbing on multiple levels, from the idea of truly solitary confinement -- never seeing the faces or hearing the voices of others -- to the details of the brutality that is always associated with prisons, no matter how "humane" they are thought to be, to the smell of the decayed and decaying facility.

So many pretty features lost in the decay and the purpose.

No clue what cascaded off the walls along this corridor.  It surely wasn't there at the time prisoners were behind these walls, but it contributes to the overall feeling of ruin and hopelessness.

Sadly, the smell set off a chain reaction of uncomfortable memories of growing up in my parents' house -- not that it was a penitentiary, though the common method of discipline was guilt, but that there were parts of the house, particularly the basement, that were as vile to be in as Eastern State.  Uncared-for, musty, crumbling walls... stacks of musty, moldy papers and books with no covers... two dirty ground-level windows letting in only limited light...  the feeling after having touched anything...  Who needs those kinds of flashbacks?

Memories aside, I don't know that total solitude causes penitence...

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