Friday, July 12, 2013

Day 9: Incarceration, Gardens, and Schools

We started off the day with a talk from Michael about the Divine Lorraine Hotel. The Divine Lorraine Hotel is now an abandoned building on North Broad Street Philadelphia, but it used to be the first racially integrated hotel in Philadelphia. Father Divine was an African American man, married to a White woman, who was the leader of the Universal Peace Mission Movement. This Movement was seen as a cult and there would be ritualistic dinners called banquets. There were also rules and regulations, such as women were required to wear long skirts, men and women were placed on different floors, and the different races were not allowed to segregate themselves. Michael had actually been to a Divine Lorraine Hotel banquet before and it was really interesting hearing about the Universal Peace Mission Movement from someone who had experienced it first hand. 
After talking about the Divine Lorraine Hotel, we were taken to the Eastern State Penitentiary where we had a tour. Eastern State Penitentiary is now a closed down prison that has hosted prisoners such as Al Capone and Willie Sutton, and has a really interesting history. Before this prison opened, prisons used to be one room compartments with criminals from all walks of life sharing it. Murderers, thieves, pickpockets, etc were all placed in the same room. Benjamin Franklin, along with some others, realized how flawed this prison system was and wanted to have a prison that focused on William Penn's views on this subject, which was rehabilitation. So in the 1800s, the Eastern State Penitentiary was created in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This prison followed the Separate System, aka the Pennsylvania System, which was to isolate the prisoners as a way of rehabilitating them. The Penitentiary's architecture was inspired by European castles, and in order to have effective isolation prisoners were given their own rooms with running toilets, their own exercise yards, and their rooms were strategically placed in a way that the prisoners would not be able to communicate with each other. In the middle of every ceiling was a hole that let in the sunlight, which looked like a bright shining light. This type of rehabilitation had a religious core. The light coming from the ceiling represented God and the isolation of the prisoner was not seen as complete isolation because they had God. The objective was the get the prisoners in, fix them, and then let them out. That was until the prison began to overcrowd.

The outlay of the Eastern State Penitentiary 
The Separate System was tarnished in 1913, and in 1970 eventually closed down. The prison was overcrowding so it was difficult to maintain the Separate System because they had to find room to place the prisoners. Prisoners were now sharing rooms and resources. After the prison was no longer using the Separate System, the prisoners were now allowed to go outside and participate in recreational activities and have visitors. Soon enough, it was realized that the Eastern State Penitentiary was made for rehabilitation through isolation and how the prison had changed did not work. So in 1970, the prison closed down and moved their prisoners  to Graterford Prison. 

After the tour, we visited Spring Garden, which is a large urban garden in Spring Garden Philadelphia surrounded by an expensive fence. The garden is placed in an originally bad neighborhood and is occupied by rich people who have now "taken over" the neighborhood. Then we went around the corner to Julia R. Masterman School, which is a public magnet school for grades 5 through 12. There are about five students from my Social Justice class that attend schools in Philadelphia and they told us about the recent lack of funding at their schools. What they told us reminded me of the schools in my area that have had large budget cuts where faculty are laid off and programs, primarily art programs, are being cut. 

Al Capone's cell at Eastern State Penitentiary
Then we had guest speakers, Dr. Kirk James and Amy Laura Cahn, JD., help Michael and Julia talk to our class about how prisons, gardens, and schools connect to each other and connect to social justice. Dr. James, Amy Laura Cahn, Micahel, and Julia pretty much led a discussion on incarceration and extended it to the urban garden we had visited and schools. Dr. James had been incarcerated before and had first hand knowledge on how cruel the prison system is. He brought to focus how horrible it is and how it is pretty much like slavery. It is a cycle of, people in bad neighborhoods are expected to be put away, once they get there they are treated horribly, and when released they are released with no help or resources. Being let out with no help or resources, most prisoners end up back in prison. It is all a cycle, and it was used during slavery times when freed slaves, after the Emancipation Proclamation, would become sharecroppers and would be in debt to their previous owners because they had not learned any other skill but sharecropping. Funds have been taken away from schools to build prisons, which delivers an image of the students attending these schools being destined for a life in jail. The community decides what they need, such as food production, and create an urban garden to provide it. What is going on with the Spring Garden is that wealthy people are taking over something that provides for the community of typically not wealthy people. 

Today has been thought provoking and inspiring. I had never thought much about prisons, incarceration, the corrupt "System," or urban gardens. The problems schools are facing has been something of importance for me because it directly influences my life, but prisons and urban gardens had never really passed my consciousness before. It was very interesting and the lush histories of the places we visited today were exciting for me. 

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