Visit Philadelphia ~ Eastern State Penitentiary

Thank you Eastern State for providing with the tickets to experience the museum!

You can see more pictures from our Eastern State visit on the Cammo Style Love facebook page

On our recent trip to Philadelphia, I was able to mark off a huge East-Coast bucket list item for me. Since we’ve moved to this side of the US seven years ago I’ve wanted to make it up to Philly and Eastern State Penitentiary. I know it probably sounds ridiculous to have a Prison on your bucket list, but as a Criminal Psychology major, this is a big deal. Eastern State is studied for many reasons – simply because it is America’s first REAL prison and because it was the beginning of prison reform, or downfall, depending on who you ask or the perspective you have. If you’ve never read about or visited Eastern State I strongly recommend it. Even our kids enjoyed it, and the two older ones stated that this was their favorite thing to do the whole trip. As a mom, that’s a major win!

the history of eastern state penitentiary

Eastern State is the world’s first true penitentiary and was designed with achieving penitence. When people look at the prison through today’s eyes they often see something quite different. Cells designed to cut off prisoners from all human contact and solitary confinement tantamount to torture.  When you take the tour or do any real reading about the subject you may learn something entirely different. If you look at the time before Eastern State Penitentiary you will see disease and filth-ridden non-system where men, women, and children were thrown together in large rooms. The building of ES brought about the end to many disease outbreaks and was designed to create an environment where prisoners could spend time in solitude to really reconcile and be penitent. They were not meant to be locked away forever! The creators of this system really did want to see individuals inside the prison release. Prisoners within ES even right up until it was shut down commented on how ES was different than any other prison they had been in before, remarking that the guards here were kind and friendly towards prisoners, bringing in radio, tv, games and Christmas decorations. I encourage you to read more about the history of Eastern State.

the tour

Expect to spend 2-3 hours at Eastern State. While the initial audio tour isn’t that long (35min) there are many areas of the prison that you can explore. Each off-the-beaten-path portion of the prison (50 additional stops) has an audio companion that you can listen to you if you choose, that are 1-2 minutes each. The audio portion is probably the best audio tour that I have ever taken. It is suitable for children and adults. They give you plenty of time to truly explore without making you feel rushed and give you great detail. There are docents and workers stationed in various locations of the prison that are also able to answer questions if you need. We ended up having an additional question and the docent was able to give a little extra insight which was nice. Grab the map and tour guide to help you locate other locations, as well as Hands on History portions where an expert tour guide is on hand to give more details that you won’t hear on the audio portion. Each experience is only about 5-10 min and is available all throughout the day. There is also one hour-long guided tour and discussion which would be perfect for a group (no additional charge for this! Just show up at the correct time). There are three portions of the tour that have adult content but are not part of the numbered tour, so the kiddos can’t accidentally bump into it.

Chaplain’s Office Murals
Synagogue – built by and for Jewish prisoners
one of the prisoners was an avid bug collector and studier – these were collected by him on prison grounds


special events

September – November come back for America’s #1 Haunted House

First Tuesday of every month hosts The Searchlight Series, discussing crime, justice and the American prison system

Hidden Lives Illuminated – August 15-September 12th Nightly – animated films are projected in the yard made by currently incarcerated artists. Nightly speakers and community involvement.

visit the Eastern State website for more special events throughout the year.

military discount and tour prices

One of the reasons I was excited to highlight this particular Philadelphia adventure is to share the military discount with my readers. For military Eastern State offers a $2.00 off discount for up to 4 people. Military discounts cannot be purchased online, but don’t worry they don’t sell out. The last entrance time 4pm. Just show up present your id at admissions. Youth prices are extended up to age 12 which is awesome! Many places list 12 as the first year for the ‘adult’ pricing. There is a student price which gives you a $4.00 discount with id.

Prisons Today Exhibit 

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