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Eastern State Penitentiary

The governor of Pennsylvania in the roaring 20’s was a guy with two last names – Gifford Pinchot. Prior to being governor, Pinchot, an ardent conservationist, was appointed by President William Taft to be the first Chief of the United States Forest Service. Somewhere between these jobs, Pinchot was embroiled in something called the Pinchot-Ballinger controversy – a conflict of interest scandal to do with coal mines and cover-ups, forcing a split in the Republican party just prior to the 1912 presidential election.

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Hospital wing, Eastern State Penitentiary

Anyway, the reason I bring up Gifford Pinchot is because in 1924 a dog attacked and killed his wife’s cat. Pinchot’s wife and first lady of Pennsylvania, Cornelia Bryce,  lobbied Pinchot to do something. So, Governor Pinchot held a trial for the dog, and found the dog guilty of murder. “Pep” was sentenced to a life at the prison without chance of parole. Pep had a mug shot and was assigned inmate number C2559. I’m not kidding. This really happened.

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Pep the dog, with mutt shot.

This is the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It opened in 1829 and closed in 1971. The damp air and crumbling masonry reminded me of a flat I once lived in when I was student at Coventry. The prison introduced a new type of system called the Pennsylvania System. Each prisoner was held in solitary confinement over the length of their sentence. Every time a prisoner left a cell, a cloth sack was placed over their head so that they couldn’t see any of the other prisoners. The only people a prisoner could see were guards. The reason was not of punishment, but rather penance. The prison was constructed to promote prisoners’ thought and reflection. The new system drove the architecture, and was copied by many prisons over the next hundred or so years.

 

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