The facility was operated under the Pennsylvania System from 1829 to 1913. This system, used by the Quakers, was designed to force the incorrigibles sent there to look inside themselves and find God. In reality, the system which placed inmates in complete solitude, drove many a sane man to madness.
Prisoners at Eastern State had a toilet, table, bunk and Bible in their cells, in which they were locked all but one hour a day. When the prisoners did leave their cells, a black hood would be placed over their head so they could not see any other prisoners as they were guided through the halls of the prison. Interaction and any form of communication between inmates was forbidden
Inmates lived a life in mundane solitude and would only get a glimpse of sunlight, known as “The Eye of God” which came through a slit in the prison ceiling. In desperate need of human interaction, prisoners would tap on pipes or whisper through vents to each other. If caught, the penalty was brutal.
- The Water Bath
The inmates who broke the rules risked being dunked in a bath of ice-cold water then hung from a wall for the night. During the winter months, when this punishment was most popular, the water on the inmates’s skin would form into a layer of ice before morning.
- The Mad Chair
The Mad Chair was named such because it was not uncommon for an inmate to go mad before his punishment ended. Inmates would be strapped into the chair with leather strips, so tightly that it was impossible for them to make the smallest of movements. They would sit for days, without food, until the circulation in their body almost stopped from the tightness of the straps and the lack of movement.
- Iron Gag
The most deadly punishment was known as the Iron Gag and specifically designed for those inmates who refused to obey the no communication policies. An iron collar was clamped onto the tongue of the inmate, and then chained to his wrists which were strapped high behind their back. Any movement resulted in a tearing of the tongue and severe bleeding. Many inmates who suffered this torture died from loss of blood before their torment ended.
- The Hole
Dug under Block #14, the hole was nothing but a pit in the ground where incorrigible inmates would stay locked, sometimes for weeks. There was no light, little air, and those thrown into its tortuous grip would receive water and a slice of bread, if they got to it before the rats and roaches.
There are reports of people being touched, hearing whispers, laughter, weeping, and hearing sounds of people moving around