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Ruins now, in a cherry orchard on a hill above the city— white washed cells around a central observation point: a divine plan by the Friends of Philadelphia in 1820. It would, said the Friends, counter the promiscuity of the gaol with its alcohol, its garnish, its dishonest mingling. It would counter the chain gang, the sport of the vicious working in public, not punish bodies but reform souls. No more stocks, pillories, tortures. Think monastery—inmates asked only to pray each in his own quiet cell, skylit, windowless, his own voice echoing. Think penitent, from Latin, to be sorry. If you go see it, if you walk the deserted corridors, place yourself in the mid-point of the starfish you are the guard watching all the arms with a clever system of mirrors. But if the prisoner, your food is given to you through a slot in the sealed door, you have no work, no book except the Bible. You do not see a human face or hear a human voice for years. Complete and austere, secret from the clatter of the city. Thick inside thick walls, your punishment acts deeply on your heart, on the soft fibers of your brain. Its radiant form, its gossamer sticky web— the seed of experiment— reproduced like bindweed, like staph with you, this very moment its object. Though you have committed no crime, though you are not imprisoned isolated or surveyed. You can sleep soundly.
© crossconnect, inc 1995-2003
published in association with the |
university of pennsylvania's kelly writers house |