Katherine Jania: True Penitence


Photography and Text by Katherine Jania



There is an eerie silence walking the hallways lined with rusted numbered doors. Some rooms boast large holes, carved out by former inmates searching for freedom. Others are empty, the only light peaks through the skylight or what the prison guards called the “Eye of God.” The prison closed in 1971; yet, tourists and employees still report hearing giggling, weeping and whispering from the decaying gothic walls.




It was the world’s first true penitentiary. Formerly housing some of the most notorious criminals, the intention was to instill inmates with fear and regret. It was designed to resemble a church, outlining the progressive ideology of rehabilitation versus punishment. Communication was entirely forbidden amongst the criminals; the theory was that absolute isolation would furnish self-reflection. Passing through the halls inmates were hooded, hiding their faces from each other. Solitude was the anecdote forcibly swallowed by the prisoners; though, it was seen more as a kiss of death. Many were driven to insanity.


Prisoners would seek companionship, tapping pipes or whispering through vents. If caught, the penalty was barbaric. Ice baths and iron gags were regularly used, and brutally reinforced. In 1840, Charles Dickens visited the prison writing about the inhumane approaches that drove the inmates into madness. Charles Dickens wrote, “I am persuaded that those who designed this system… do not know what that it is they are doing… I hold the slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”


Photography and Text by Katherine Jania, Copyright 2015


About The Author: Katherine Jania is a senior enrolled in the Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania. Class of 2016

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