Friday, July 11, 2014

Day 5: "Question Authority"

Well, as incredible as it may seem, my first week of classes is over. I find it remarkable how fast time can pass when each day is something that you look forward to immensely. To my surprise, each day has challenged me and forced me to think in various new perspectives than what I normally would. 
Eastern State Penitentiary
Today was no exception to that trend as we began our morning session with another field trip. The destination for today was Eastern State Penitentiary, the worlds first penitentiary. As we walked through a part of a Philadelphia that I had never been to, Andy explained to us how many of the residential buildings in the area had once belonged to the wealthier group of society for a long time, then it had been transferred to lower income families. When we reached the penitentiary, I was amazed. The landscape juxtaposed profoundly with the surrounding area. It was a gigantic castle-like structure surrounded by densely urban areas. From a visitors perspective it looked very intimidating in terms of architecture and magnitude. When we entered our tour guide's name was Adrienne and she was very informative as well as philosophical. She began by giving us a brief overview of the penitentiary. Originally it was intended to be a forerunner model for prison systems across the world as it employed a solitary confinement method, a form that had been flawed in previous attempts. The purpose was to prevent congregation between inmates so as to reduce the possibility of rioting and increment the severity of incarceration. We were able to see into various of the cells and begin to imagine the everyday lifestyle those incarcerated within the penitentiary. The space was not as cramped as I would have imagined and provided many basic amenities to prisoners that were essential. As we proceeded we began to learn about how the original plan of having seven cell blocks centered in a circle on a single point would  quickly become impossible as the amount of prisoners began to exceed the capacity. Soon other cell blocks had to be built to cope with the overwhelming quantity of inmates coming in, which caused an issue with surveillance. Another aspect of prison life there was that money was very powerful and could greatly improve your sentenced time. This really made the system corrupt as a person with immense amounts of wealth could easily buy their way out of prison without ever having to face trial. After hour tour we did a first in the history of the penitentiary, Qi-gong. The focus of today's exercises were the theme that all was well. The movements were meant to resemble an experience of relief and comfort.
Part of Jesse Krimes' magnificent artwork
Incredible Philadelphian artwork
From there we headed over to a local art studio view a majestic painting and hear the life story of a man named, Jesse Krimes. As we gazed upon the artwork, I was taken aback by the magnitude and countless of work. While we viewed, Mr. Krimes began telling us his story. He was convicted of possession of cocaine, however the exact amount had wildly been exaggerated. After sentencing, he was placed in the worst prison possible that was in poor condition and possessed a multitude of issues such as vermin. In order to save him from the injustices of the system, his mother put everything on the line to find him a lawyer that would fight for his case. The charges were eventually found to be inflated and his sentence was reduced from 7 to life, to 100 months, however the judge saw this to inappropriate and reduced his sentence by 30  months and recommended he be held in a nearby prison. Unfortunately, the system had others plans as it sent him as far away from home as legally possible. Once there he began to realize how segregate the prison was and how it was, in large part, entirely run by gangs. Being sentenced for a non-violent crime, he tended to stay to himself and found solace in art. It permitted him an outlet for remaining sane as well as a purpose. In doing so he crossed various racial barriers as he became acquaintances with many inmates who asked him for portraits of their relatives. It also opened up a deeper level of intimacy between inmates, one that te common system would no condone, gathering together as one. He quickly realized that everyone at the prison was just as scared as he was and that prison's purpose was to dived people by employing fear tactics to avoid insurgencies. When he was transferred back to the prison near his home, he began working on the masterpiece that stood before us. To create it he used stolen bed sheets from the prison. It was meant to model everything he had missed while in prison and was created by using various articles from the New York Times. I found this very inspiring, how a man who had been done wrong by the system, took out his emotions through art rather than violence. Our time there was sadly cut short by a need to go get lunch and we headed over to a local pizzeria where Andy bought everyone food. This is the first time a teacher, or in this case a professor, has ever been so generous to do such a thing.

The evening session began the second we got back to campus, however this was no large burden on my part as the topic was one I was greatly looking forward to all day, our criminal system. Our guest speaker was Dr. Kirk James. Almost immediately, it became evident that he was both passionate about  he had to say. He began by discussing the reasons for why we possessed such a high incarceration number. He began by listing off two factors that have had the largest affect on the potential for a person to be placed in jail, education and socio-economic backgrounds. Recidivism, or the average potential of a convict returning to prison is around 50-80%. A number I found to be unfathomable and had a tough time realizing it was a reality. How could a system that prides itself on liberty and freedom, lack the ability to educate young minds well so that they can get good jobs and are not forced to resort to a life of crime. He explained that the intent of the criminal justice system was to dehumanize people. Dr. James also elaborated on the history of prisons and how they arose due to industrialism and as capitalism began to rise. "Wealth in America is generated through oppression" was a quote that really resonated with me and made me shocked as to how true this statement was. To conclude his presentation, he summarized his opinion of the criminal justice system as being corrupts, capitalistic and unjust.

In the evening, I was relatively tired so I decided once more to take it easy. As a group with my floormates, we headed over to the local theatre to watch "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", which allowed us all to bond a lot more and become even closer friends. The day went very well and I was surprised by how much I found agreeable with in the explications of Jesse Krimes and Dr. Kirk James. Tomorrow being a Saturday means that there is a major trip planned and I could wait to go out and explore a lot more.

No comments:

Post a Comment