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Eastern State Penitentiary

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Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA) is considered the world's first true penitentiary. Prison that resembles the medial castle was built in 1829. It reflected a new and revolutionary at the time system of incarceration. So called “Pennsylvania system” was based on the total isolation of prisoners. There were no group activities. Inmates lived and worked in their solitary cells and were required to obey the absolute silence. Every man and woman spent 23 hours in the cell and 1 hour in the open air, in the walled tiny solitary yard attached to building.


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Inmates’ accommodations had modern features for their time. Each cell had a flush toilet, a faucet with running water, central heating, and narrow glass window in the celling. In the 19th century, the idea of a solitary confinement and the circular prison floor design of the Eastern State became a model for hundreds of prisons on several continents, but not in the USA.


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For 142 years, until Eastern State Penitentiary was closed in 1971 there were many escape attempts, but only one was successful. In 1945, twelve prisoners were able to dig an underground 97 ft. / 30 m long tunnel under the high prison wall. They escaped at night. The next morning, one of the escapees knocked at the prison gates. He apologized for the escape and asked for admittance. He explained that he was hungry. Finally, all twelve prisoners were captured and placed back into their cells.


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