Prison Story

Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia held murderers, gangsters and the criminally insane for over 150 years before it was abandoned. Between Christmas and New Year’s of 2001, I spent the night there.

Excerpt from "An Evening on Death Row" in Ghost Investigator, Volume 2.

Next stop—Death Row. It was one of the more modern buildings, consisting of two floors with two rows of cells placed back to back. Darkness had now fallen and only the dim light of some distant buildings revealed the bleak, stark lines of cells. Mike and I decided to set up our camcorders at opposite ends of the row on the western side of the top floor. I took the back wall, while he set up at the entrance. Our guide Brian remained outside, but I suggested that everyone else pick a cell and sit quietly while the cameras taped in infrared.

Even as I was setting up the camera, I could see on the view screen that there were several small, white spots moving around in front of me. As it was a dusty, dirty place, airborne particles could account for those spots, but dust couldn’t account for everything that happened on death row that night.

This is most likely a massive understatement, but there is nothing quite like the feeling of sitting alone in the silent blackness of a death row cell in a cold, abandoned prison. You cannot help but experience the desolation and the hopelessness, and you cannot help but imagine the violence, cruelty and the perversity of the men who spent their final days on earth caged up in those small spaces.

These cells contained the worst examples humanity could offer, men who committed unspeakable atrocities, men who even in there last hours reached through those bars grasping at guards, hoping to kill one last victim before they themselves were executed. There were also those who realized the mistakes they had made, and lived every last minute in fear, desperation and anguish over the fate that awaited them. These cells once contained the greatest concentration of evil and torment, and it was in these cells that we sat, hearts pumping, minds racing, wondering what could happen.

Suddenly a motion detector alarm pierced the silence. It had been placed near the entrance and as I was on the opposite end of the cellblock, I didn’t know what was going on. When no one spoke after a few seconds, I leaned out of my cell and asked if anyone had walked past the motion detector. Mike was still behind his camera, and everybody else was still in their cells. A few specks of dust aren’t sufficient to set off one of these detectors. There must be something solid and substantial to trigger the alarm, and it wasn’t anyone in our group...

Death Row