Eastern State Penitentiary offers a way to not feel locked up while inside

Eastern State Penitentiary is offering virtual ways to experience its historical offerings.
Eastern State Penitentiary

With social distancing still in full swing, many establishments have found ways to make their mark on the virtual front during the current situation, including the Eastern State Penitentiary. The landmark institution has always offered programing and tours and even online content aimed towards continuing the mission of the historic site, but now that content has expanded and continues to offer everyone a way to learn and be entertained while staying home.

“Our work has never been more important. Our team has developed multiple platforms to engage the public with issues that are literally life and death for people living and working in prisons,” said Sean Kelley, senior vice president of the Eastern State Penitentiary, in a release. “We’ve made room for playful content, too, and some more traditional historical programming. Connection is really important right now, whether it be over important issues or just breaking isolation online with something interesting or fun.”

Eastern State Penitentiary

The Penitentiary closed in early March temporarily, but still offered its online audio tour “The Voices of Eastern State,” narrated by Steve Buscemi, and since social distancing went into effect, the viewership for this particular virtual showcase increased significantly, prompting the ESP to add more content.

Viewers can now head online to check out the Penitentiary’s new assortment of content adding to the already popular audio tour.

One new offering comes in the form of twice-weekly videos (every Tuesday and Friday). With Prisons and the Pandemic, Eastern State Penitentiary Tour Guide Marney Penn will share the latest news about COVID-19 and its effect on the criminal justice system to give viewers an inside look at how the crisis is impacting those incarcerated. Then, with the ESP’s popular offering ‘The Searchlight Series,’ viewers can join in on a live-streamed conversation focusing on timely topics like the impact of COVID-19 on incarcerated youth. The typical monthly series will now take place weekly every Tuesday at 6 p.m. through Facebook.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Those who have a fascination with the medical world will also enjoy the ESP’s live online hospital tours which are now live-streamed every Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. through Facebook. The live tours are led by Tour Program Supervisor Matt Murphy, and each week focuses on a different theme with past focuses including tuberculosis, mental illness and surgery.

The Penitentiary is also offering a creative way to experience the prison with its #ESPinColor. Eastern State will be uploading new color sheets every week for Philadelphians to download and invites those who partake in the creative exercise to then share the finished product on social media using the hashtag #ESPinColor.

The last addition to the Eastern State Penitentiary’s online offerings comes as a blast from the past. Last August, the Penitentiary debuted a new project ‘Hidden Lives Illuminated’ that showcased incarcerated artist’s work through animated films created by artists at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Chester and Philadelphia’s Riverside Correctional Facility for Women. The success of the project last year provoked the ESP to once again re-visit the project, but this time Philadelphians will be experiencing it online. Every Thursday, Programming Specialist Damon McCool will introduce one of 20 animated films created by the incarcerated filmmakers and will invite viewers to share their thoughts with the filmmakers via a downloadable postcard.

In a release from 2019, Sean Kelley, who also acted as the Project Lead for ‘Hidden Lives Illuminated,’ stated:“Eastern State Penitentiary is committed to deepening the conversation about criminal justice reform in the United States. With “Hidden Lives Illuminated,” we can structure these conversations around the literal voices of men and women living inside prisons today. Prisons are some of the most inaccessible spaces in America. After all, prison walls don’t just keep incarcerated people in, they keep the public out. We want to use our wall to illuminate the lives of people living inside these institutions that are so often misunderstood, or worse, ignored.”

Incarcerated artist Ezra watches his animation play on a cylinder. Richard Patterson

With a goal of paving a way for people to interpret the legacy of American criminal justice reform, Eastern State Penitentiary has not taken this time to slow down, but instead amp up all they have to offer just through a virtual lens. They have continuously furthered that mission and show no signs of stopping in the face of COVID-19.

To learn more information on the Eastern State Penitentiary and its online offerings, visit easternstate.org

More from our Sister Sites