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Posts Tagged ‘Quaker

“Your silence will not protect you”*…

Characterized today by the noise of banging, buzzers, and the cries of inmates, solitary confinement was originally developed from Quaker ideas about the redemptive power of silence, envisioned as a humane alternative to the punitive violence of late-18th century jails. Revisiting Pennsylvania’s Eastern State Penitentiary, Jane Brox discovers the spiritual origins and reformist ambitions of solitary’s early advocates, and sees their supposedly progressive desires come to ruin by the 20th century…

On any given day in the United States, of the more than one million men and women incarcerated in jails and prisons, over 120,000 are locked in solitary confinement. None have been sentenced by a court to their isolation. They are serving a punishment within punishment, having been placed in solitary by prison officials for a variety of reasons: violent crime, petty theft, speaking out, gang involvement, political activism. Some are in protective custody; others have mental health issues and are considered too difficult to control. A disproportionate percentage are people of color. Their sentence might last weeks or months and is subject to extension. More than a few spend years, even decades in cells whose dimensions are commonly compared to the size of a parking space, but which are often smaller — six-by-nine feet, or eight-by-ten. Reading material is sparse. Confined prisoners don’t participate in educational or rehabilitation programs. Other than meals — which are often more meager than those provided to the general prison population — and an hour of exercise a day, little exists to distract them from the heaviness of time, and nothing at all suggests that the historic roots of such punishment can be traced to the concept of redemption.

The idea of the solitary cell as an integral part of the American prison system arose during the Early Republic, the specific vision of Philadelphia physician and Founding Father Benjamin Rush, who advocated for time in solitude and silence — the active, searching silence of Quakerism — as an alternative to the bodily pain, injury, and humiliation of public hangings and whippings. He saw it as a means not only of punishment but of reformation for housebreakers, forgers, highway robbers, horse thieves, and even murderers, and his vision of justice eventually led to the construction of the world’s first penitentiary, Eastern State, designed by architect John Haviland, and raised on the grounds of an old cherry orchard three miles outside of Philadelphia’s city limits.

When Cherry Hill — as it was sometimes called — admitted its first prisoners in 1829, it stood in stark contrast to traditional jails, where debtors and those awaiting trial were housed in filthy, noisy, and disorderly common rooms. In the penitentiary, not only were the confined to remain in their individual cells for the duration of their sentence, according to the board of inspectors for Philadelphia’s prisons, there was to be “such an entire seclusion of convicts from society and from one another, as that during the period of their confinement, no one shall see or hear, or be seen or heard by any human being, except the jailer, the inspectors, or such other persons, as for highly urgent reasons may be permitted to enter the walls of the prison.”…

Two interior views of a cell at Eastern State Penitentiary, from Richard Vaux’s Brief Sketch of the Origin and History of the State Penitentiary for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, 1872. The first photograph is taken while standing in the corridor, the second, while standing in the yardSource.

How a Quaker’s good intentions went awry: “The Silent Treatment- Solitary Confinement’s Unlikely Origins,” in @PublicDomainRev.

* Audre Lorde


As we ponder penitentiaries, we might send reformist birthday greetings to Roscoe Pound; he was born on this date in 1870. A lawyer and law school professor and Dean, he was one of the most cited legal scholars of the 20th century.

While serving as Dean of Harvard Law School, Pound founded the movement for “sociological jurisprudence” and was one of the early leaders of the movement for American Legal Realism, which argued for a more pragmatic and public-interested interpretation of law and a focus on how the legal process actually occurred, as opposed to (in his view) the arid legal formalism which prevailed in American jurisprudence at the time. In Pound’s view, these jurisprudential movements advocated “the adjustment of principles and doctrines to the human conditions they are to govern rather than to assumed first principles.”  While Pound was dean, law school registration almost doubled, but his standards were so rigorous that one-third of those matriculated did not receive degrees. Among those that did were many of the great political innovators of the New Deal years.

Pound also had a PhD in botany, and before turning to the law, served as director of the Nebraska state botanical survey (1892-1903), during which time he discovered a rare fungus, subsequently named Roscopoundia.


“A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on”*…


When states ran out of execution drugs, they started paying tens of thousands of dollars to Chris Harris, a salesman in India with no pharmaceutical background…

The sad tale in its entirety at: “This Is The Man In India Who Is Selling States Illegally Imported Execution Drugs.”

* William S. Burroughs


As we plan our last meals, we might recall that it was on this date in 1659 that William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, two Quakers who had come to the New World from England in 1656 to escape religious persecution, are hanged in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for their religious beliefs.  The two had violated a law passed by the Massachusetts General Court the year before, banning Quakers from the colony under penalty of death.  A third Quaker, Mary Dyer, was arrested with Robinson and Stevenson, and marched to the execution spot with them, but given a reprieve at the last moment– banished (again) from the Colony. She returned the following year, was apprehended, and hanged.  Together, the three are known as the “Boston martyrs.”

Stevenson, Dyer, and Robinson being led to their fates.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 27, 2015 at 1:01 am

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