The Searchlight Series

The Searchlight Series

Eastern State Penitentiary Presents
The Searchlight Series:
Conversations About Crime, Justice, and the American Prison System


Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site partners with nationally recognized penologists and educators to present an ongoing discussion series about crime, justice, and the American prison system. The Searchlight Series discussions take place the first Tuesday of every month, free and open to the public. No reservations required. The 2015 schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, January 6
Tuesday, February 3
Tuesday, March 3
Tuesday, April 7
Tuesday, May 5, plus additional event on Thursday, May 7
Tuesday, June 2
Tuesday, July 7
Tuesday, August 4
Tuesday, September 1
Tuesday, October 6
Tuesday, November 3
Tuesday, December 1

The Searchlight Series is supported in part by a grant from The George W. Rentschler Foundation. Discussion topics and speakers listed below. (Some topics TBA.) Click here for a list of last year's discussions.


Betty Jean Thompson: The Impact of Incarceration Upon Families and Communities

Betty Jean ThompsonTuesday, January 6, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

The mother of a formerly incarcerated man, Ms. Thompson will use excerpts from her book A Small Candlelight to explore the impact of mass incarceration on communities.

She will discuss “realistic healing approaches” to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, their families, and their communities to “minimize the oppressive nature of Incarceration.”

Leslie Guy: Finding Our Way

Tuesday, February 3, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Leslie Guy at Eastern State Penitentiary Searchlight SeriesMuseums are often seen as places that exhibit and preserve historical art and artifacts. Yet some museums are establishing their role as a forum for the critical dialogues of today.

Leslie Guy, Director of Curatorial Services at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, will discuss the museum’s accomplishments and continuing challenges in telling stories that address contemporary human rights issues.

Sue Osthoff: Working for Justice for Victims of Battering Charged with Crimes

Tuesday, March 3, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.Sue Osthoff at Eastern State Penitentiary's The Searchlight Series

Victims of domestic violence and abuse make up a large percentage of the ever-increasing number of people who are charged with crimes and/or incarcerated. Join Sue Osthoff, Director of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, as she discusses some of the ways that victims of battering end up in the criminal legal system as defendants, the detrimental impact that criminal charges can have on a survivor’s safety and options, and strategies to increase justice for charged, incarcerated, and reentering victims of battering.

Exonerated from Death Row

Tuesday, April 7, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Witness to Innocence at Eastern State Penitentiary's The Searchlight SeriesBoth Kirk Bloodsworth and Harold Wilson were given the death penalty for crimes they did not commit. They spent a combined 18 years on death row. Kirk was the first person released from death row in the United States because of DNA evidence; he now serves as a Board Member for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. Harold is the sixth and most recent death row exoneree from Pennsylvania. They now tell their stories of wrongful conviction as members of Witness to Innocence, the nation's only organization of exonerated death row survivors.

Alice Goffman: On the Run

Tuesday, May 5, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Alice GoffmanDrawing on six years of fieldwork in Philadelphia, Alice Goffman's book On the Run describes young men growing up as suspects and fugitives in the segregated Black neighborhoods torn apart by the war on crime and unprecedented levels of targeted imprisonment.

Alice Goffman is an urban ethnographer who grew up in Philadelphia, attended graduate school at Princeton, and now teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Reception and book signing to follow.

Tatiana Kursina: Working at a Historic Site in a Hostile Political Environment

Thursday, May 7, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Tatiana KursinaJoin Tatiana Kursina, Founding Director of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36, the only Russian gulag camp to have been preserved, as she discusses the challenges that museums face in charged political contexts.

Kursina is on a speaking tour of the U.S., raising awareness of the Russian government's forceful and sustained crackdown on pro-democracy and human rights organizations. Perm-36 was recently closed by local Russian authorities. Kursina will speak about her 20 years working to advance human rights and democratic ideals.

Both Eastern State Penitentiary and the Gulag Museum at Perm-36 are members of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, a global network of historic sites, museums, and memory initiatives connecting past struggles to today's movements for human rights and social justice.

Marie Gottschalk: CAUGHT: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics

Tuesday, June 2, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Marie GottschalkFree. No reservations required.

The huge prison buildup of the past four decades has few defenders today, yet reforms to reduce the number of people in U.S. jails and prisons have been remarkably modest. Marie Gottschalk discusses her new book, taking an ambitious and provocative approach to criminal justice reform.

Dr. Marie Gottschalk is Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Jennifer Storm: Protecting Victims' Rights

Tuesday, July 7, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Jennifer StormThe rights of crime victims are sometimes overlooked in our criminal justice system. What is their role? How has that role been changing? What challenges face these families who, after all, have been pulled into the legal system by the violent or unlawful actions of others?

Jennifer Storm is Commonwealth Victim Advocate. She represents the rights and interests of crime victims generally throughout the Commonwealth and specifically regarding post-sentencing rights before the Board of Probation and Parole, Department of Corrections. Her office oversees notification to crime victims of the potential for inmate release and provides input to the board regarding all paroling decisions.

Bruce Herdman: Why Prison Healthcare is Better than What We Get in Our Communities

Tuesday, August 4, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Bruce HerdmanFree. No reservations required.

Dr. Bruce Herdman is responsible for the medical treatment of more than 8,000 inmates living daily in the Philadelphia Prison System. He will speak about the challenges of caring for a population that enters prisons sick with chronic medical conditions, drug addiction and mental health issues. As the Philadelphia Prison System’s first Chief of Medical Operations, over the past eight years he has improved the inmates’ overall health while keeping cost increases at a minimum.

Policing in 2015: Phila. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles RamseyTuesday, September 1, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

In an informal and conversational presentation, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey discusses the challenges and opportunities in running one of the largest police forces in the United States, and the lessons learned from events in Baltimore, Ferguson, Staten Island and elsewhere.

UPDATE 9/1/15, 6:45 PM: Tonight’s discussion with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey was interrupted by protesters. As we said during the event’s introduction, Eastern State believes in open dialogue and plans to continue the conversation as soon as the Commissioner’s schedule allows. Please check back for a video of this discussion soon.

UPDATE 9/2/15, 12:30 PM: Eastern State Penitentiary's full statement can be found here.

UPDATE 9/14/15, 2:00 PM:The full interview with Commissioner Ramsey, including the original 15 minutes with the start of the protests at Eastern State and the 45-minute follow-up conversation in the Commissioner's office, is now available online.

Michael Welch: Escape to Prison: Penal Tourism and the Pull of Punishment

Michael Welch Escape to PrisonTuesday, October 6, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

In Escape to Prison, criminalist Michael Welch explores ten prison museums on six continents, examining the complex interplay between culture and punishment. He writes, "Prison museums tend to invert the Disneyland experience, becoming the antithesis of ‘the happiest place on earth.’”

Michael Welch is Professor of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, and a Visiting Professor at Mannheim Centre for Criminology at the London School of Economics where he conducts research on punishment and human rights.

Jen Manion: Liberty's Prisoners

Tuesday, November 3, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Jen ManionHistorian Jen Manion argues that the penitentiary system in early America exploited racist ideologies, gender norms, sexual desire, and antipathy towards the poor to justify its existence and expansion. The use of incarceration grew as women, enslaved people, and indentured servants—those previously with no legal standing— increasingly claimed their own right to life, liberty, and happiness.

In this pattern, Liberty’s Prisoners argues, we see a precursor to the dramatic growth of the U.S. prison system in the last 40 years.

Dr. Jen Manion is Associate Professor of History at Connecticut College.