Eastern State Penitentiary: How a Prison Museum Responded

Prisons for many people are a place that they hope to never visit. Eastern State Penitentiary is an exception to that rule. At Eastern State visitors can learn about Pep the dog, Al Capone, and other famous prisoners that stayed at Eastern State. While many visitors may view these people that were incarcerated at Eastern State as exciting figures from the past they are also forced to deal with issues from the present. The primary issue that Eastern State attempts to deal with is mass incarceration. During my time at Eastern State I had the opportunity to speak to a tour guide and one of the leaders of interpretation. During this discussion a ranking of those who went to Eastern State was one of the topics. On the one end was those who were directly connected to prisons and on the other were those who treated the experience as a vacation getaway and did not feel any connection to prison reform. Holocaust history faces a similar issue because some people have a direct connection to the Holocaust while others deny that it ever happened. Some of the ways that Eastern State tried to reach all of these varying audiences was by creating an exhibit about prison reform and by inviting former prisoners. In the exhibit about prison reform people are encouraged to write about an experience in which they broke the law. People can read what others have written both during their visit from Eastern State and from prisoners. This helps create empathy through participation.

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