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July 10, 2012

Distinct headlines with distinct stories on modern intersections between Bible and jail

BH03The picture reprinted here is an overhead view of the historic Eastern State Penitentiary, and here below are a few passages from a lengthy discussion of the famed prison's early history:

Eastern State Penitentiary broke sharply with the prisons of its day, abandoning corporal punishment and ill treatment. This massive new structure, opened in 1829, became one of the most expensive American buildings of its day and soon the most famous prison in the world.  The Penitentiary would not simply punish, but move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change....

Eastern's seven earliest cellblocks may represent the first modern building in the United States.  The concept plan, by the British-born architect John Haviland, reveals the purity of the vision.  Seven cellblocks radiate from a central surveillance rotunda.  Haviland’s ambitious mechanical innovations placed each prisoner in his or her own private cell, centrally heated, with running water, a flush toilet, and a skylight.  Adjacent to the cell was a private outdoor exercise yard contained by a ten-foot wall.  This was in an age when the White House, with its new occupant Andrew Jackson, had no running water and was heated with coal-burning stoves.

In the vaulted, skylit cell, the prisoner had only the light from heaven, the word of God (the Bible) and honest work (shoemaking, weaving, and the like) to lead to penitence.  In striking contrast to the Gothic exterior, Haviland used the grand architectural vocabulary of churches on the interior.  He employed 30-foot, barrel vaulted hallways, tall arched windows, and skylights throughout.  He wrote of the Penitentiary as a forced monastery, a machine for reform.

The historic and intricate links between incarceration, religious commitments and the Bible are on my mind today because of these two very different recent stories reporting on two very different modern intersections of Bible study and imprisonment:

July 10, 2012 at 07:12 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Home Bible study is like a family reunion or a private party. It should not require permits and kowtowing and payments to government thugs. The prosecutor should be fired for his anti-Christian bias and improper motive to the charges. The judges should be driven out of town by the citizenry. These feminist lawyers and their male running dogs are on a hunt after the productive white male. They would never do the same to a Muslim imam. Nor to any homosexual club meeting. Nor to any other freak group. If Prof. Berman invited his class to a spaghetti dinner and review of class questions in his home every Wednesday, should he be required to obtain permits? No. Is that running a law school for zoning purposes? No. It is a social gathering.

There is open warfare on Christians by the lawyer profession. Why? Because it competes with government, and is far more effective than government at helping people obeys rules of conduct and decency. Christians should start to fire back. Denounce and boycott their mortal enemies in the law. As the feminist lawyer shows no quarter, so none should be given.

I am a devout atheist. Religion is the greatest scam, the only one with constitutional protection. ("Pay us now, and you will be rewarded after your death." And every major act of life requires a paid ritual. No other scam comes even close.) However, the lawyer should lay off Christians or suffer harsh consequences.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 10, 2012 8:12:24 AM

The story of Eastern State, with its extreme isolation, also provides a window into today's debate on supermax prisons. The passage below, from http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM1K26, notes that the isolation model was criticized and then largely abandoned:

Ten years later [in 1842] the famous English author, Charles Dickens, penned strong disagreement [with Alexis de Tocqueville]. While acknowledging the good intentions of the Quaker reformers, he argued that "this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain [I hold] to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body."

The reality of reformation of the inner self through isolation from evil influences never measured up to the ideal. In the succeeding years, the penitentiary moved away from its severe isolation techniques. Eventually a workshop, exercise yard and even a baseball league allowed more and more interactions among inmates.

Posted by: Michael Orenstein | Jul 10, 2012 11:06:33 AM

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