Saturday, 11 June 2016

Philadelphia Freedom

Philadelphia, PA

Benjamin Franklin Bridge

The Benjamin (Ben) Franklin Bridge is a suspension bridge across the Delaware River connecting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Camden, New Jersey.

It carries 100,000 vehicles a day, a car costs $5 (trucks are more) westbound into PA. It cost $37m to build and based on the car tolls alone, they make in excess of $91m a year. When we were photographing it down on the waterfront on the New Jersey side, Lindsay asked a policeman if it was safe around here. No, he said, do what you have to do and get out of here. Mmmm, okay, now I’m worried.

Ben Franklin Bridge
Philadelphia skyline from Camden in New Jersey
Going across the bridge
30th Street Station, Philadelphia
These signs are all over America, with information on historic events

The Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell is a symbol of American independence. It was originally made for the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall. The bell was commissioned from the London firm of Lester and Pack in 1752, and was cast with the lettering "Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof". The names Pass & Stow also appear on the bell which you might know from the movie National Treasure, were the people that repaired the bell twice after it first cracked when it was rung soon after it’s arrival.

Liberty Bell

Freedom for some, but not those who are confined to the:

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State was the world’s first true penitentiary, opening in 1829. The design was to inspire penitence – true regret in the hearts of the prisoners. It was strongly believed that if the criminals were left in silence to reflect on their behaviour and their crimes, they would become genuinely penitent. Thus the new word, penitentiary. They had no contact from the outside world and most sentences at this time were about two years. It has been a tourist attraction most of it’s life, even Charles Dickens came to visit (he lived in Boston for a year).

Each prisoner had his or her own private cell, centrally heated, with running water, a flush toilet, and a skylight. Even the White House did not have these amenities at the time.

It became the model for prison design worldwide. An estimated 300 prisons on four continents, including 12 in Australia are based on it’s distinctive “wagon-wheel” floor plan surrounded by thirty foot stone walls. The most expensive building in the USA in it’s day; it was finally abandoned in 1971 after being in use for 142 years. It sat unloved for 23 years as ideas were discussed on what to do with it. A shopping centre was suggested or demolish it and at the final moment – to keep it for history. Most of it is in a very dilapidated state. They are starting to clean it up but will do just enough to stop the decay.

The newer wings are two storeys

We arrived right on opening at 10am hoping to take some photos of areas without people in them. There was a fair amount of 2-hour parking around the jail but it took a while to find a vacant spot. There were two school buses out the front when we arrived and my heart sank, oh no, not again! The entry fee includes the audio guide but we decided to go scouting for photos first and do the tour afterwards before the kids caught up.

There were originally seven cellblocks radiating from a central rotunda that allowed the guards to keep surveillance, then another four were added later on. Mirrors provided surveillance into the new cellblocks from the Rotunda.

Three cell blocks, two of the original, one squished in between

The prisoners were kept in their cells for 23 hours a day and were let outside for two half hour periods in an area the same size as their cell. If they had to be moved around the prison they were hooded so that they couldn’t see anything nor could anyone see them. Therefore when they got out, they would not be able to recognise anyone else they had been inside with.

What was inside?

There were some quick guided tours to locked areas that I wanted to do also but we were coming up to our 2-hour parking limit so we went out to move the truck via an ice-cream shop. It was a bit bizzare, after telling the guy at the register what flavours we wanted, then he just stood there. He served another girl who came in, and still stood there. We are waiting, waiting. Finally, someone comes out with three ice-creams for the three of us, but mine is the wrong flavour. So we waited some more. What a weird system.

Lots of information for us

We moved our truck a couple of streets closer and went back inside to hear about the Dining Halls, Punishment Cells and the Operating room which are behind locked doors.

Off the beaten track

In 1913 they decided that the solitary confinement experiment wasn’t working, so they needed to add “common” areas as there was nowhere for the prisoners to go outside of their cells.

The dining area was squeezed in between cell block four and five. It also had it’s own bakery. There were two rooms that could hold 350 inmates, so meal times had several sittings. All the cooks were inmates there were no chefs. Philadelphia law required that two hot meals needed to be served each day, so food needed to be simple so that anyone could cook it. Coffee was served at breakfast and lunch, but tea was served a dinner. I guess they wanted them to sleep at night.

Dentist chair

As they started running out of room they added more wings, the newer ones having three levels instead of two. The number of prisoners to a cell went from one to two or three. They were given two blankets but only one sheet – why not two sheets? Anti dandruff shampoo, a special prison sized toothbrush, and flip flops.

There was an operating theatre where inmates could get anything done – from having tattoos removed to having their appendix out. The hospital had a quarantine section for tuberculosis cases where they were given fresh air.

The punishment cells were small windowless cubicles underground the cell blocks where the plumbing was. People were sent here for 2 to 30 days. There were no toilets, so they assume they were given a bucket. They are were nicknamed "Klondike" which probably means they were cold and miserable as this refers to an area in the Yukon, Canada.

Cellblock 15 was death row but it wasn’t added until 1956. This laid to rest the original thinking of redemption as these prisoners were beyond hope.

Death Row

One of the infamous residents was Al Capone who got arrested for carrying a gun in a moving picture theatre in Philadelphia. He was there for a year and was allowed to furnish his cell with antiques, rugs and paintings. They eventually charged him on tax evasion.

Al Capone's cell refurnished...

California and Washington State had the first gangs within the prison system, but now they are found in all states. The gangs were originally formed for self protection, but now it is difficult to find out what they are up to as they tend to kill anyone who finds out.

America’s prison system costs the taxpayer 74 billon dollars a year to run. They have more people per head of population in prison than any other country. To compare - America has a ratio of 730 out of every 100,000 of population in jail, while Australia has 129. The number of incarcerations has increased dramatically over the past few decades due to minor offences being punished by prison sentences. They are finally rethinking this strategy and the numbers have started to decrease in the last few years. By 2012 there were 2.2 million American's in prison or jail. By 2013, one in every 28 children had a parent in prison or jail. One in three adults have been arrested by the age of 23. Between 70-100 million citizens now have a criminal record.

the rise of incarcerations
Walking back to our truck a number of people had parking tickets on their windscreens, so we were glad we moved our truck earlier.

Old Cedar Family Campground, NJ


  1. nice.... photo's with a story

  2. Thanks for risking you life taking these beautiful pictures of the BF Bridge

    1. no problem, I wasn't worried until then!

  3. Great photos Jane - good plan too, getting ahead of the buses, makes the mood a little more chilling...

  4. Excellent photos and story of the jail. Interesting information.

  5. This is one city we missed. But we don't have to back there, your photography is just amazing. And that bridge photo is tops.

    1. thanks Mona-Lisa, there wasn't a lot there to entice a tourist, so I'm not surprised you didn't go