“Eastern State: Living Behind the Walls,” is a documentary film by writer director Tony Alosi which explores the history and significance of the world’s first penitentiary, Eastern State, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

The prison officially closed in 1972, but in 1982, when it was announced it would be demolished two years later, Alosi began documenting its existence and history through film and still photographs.  He assembled the footage into a 15-minute film, which inspired a small group of Philadelphians to form a historical society to make Eastern State Penitentiary a legally recognized historical site, a step that may have saved it from demolition. 

The prison became the foundation for our current American penal system.  It was backed by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Dr. Benjamin Rush, and initiated a new philosophy of criminal rehabilitation based on the Pennsylvania Quaker’s ideology of silent penitence and spiritual reflection, what know as solitary confinement.  It became the model—in design and reform—for more than three hundred prisons worldwide.  At its inception it was the most famous prison in the world, and the largest single building in North America.  As a result it prompted the coining of a new dictionary word:  penitentiary.  Opened in 1829, it became one of the most expensive—and modern—American buildings of its time.

The documentary is combination of images of the prison and stories told by the people who spent a large portion of their lives existing within its walls.  His subjects include former prisoners, as well as its employees, including a guard and the prison psychologist.  The film addresses the question of the effectiveness of the prison system and the imposed ideology of reform by solitary confinement.  The film is a commentary on the philosophy of incarceration. 

Click here to Go to Film’s Web Sitehttp://easternstatefilm.com

Eastern State: Living Behind the Walls