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 2014 schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, January 7
Tuesday, February 4
Tuesday, March 4
Tuesday, April 1
Tuesday, May 6 (canceled)
Tuesday, June 3
Tuesday, July 1
Tuesday, August 5
Tuesday, September 2
Tuesday, October 7 (canceled)
Tuesday, November 4
Tuesday, December 2

Discussion topics and speakers listed below. (Some topics TBA.) Click here for a list of last year's discussions.


Lock Up America: Why Mass Incarceration Matters To our Cities, our Economy, and our Democracy

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

Heather Ann ThompsonDr. Heather Ann Thompson, a historian of American crime and punishment, will explore how this nation came to incarcerate more citizens than any other county in the world, and she will locate what the consequences of this punitive turn have been for all Americans.

Dr. Thompson writes about the contemporary implications of today’s high rates of incarceration for publications such as The New York Times and The Atlantic.

Creating “Apokaluptein:16389067”

Tuesday, February 4, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Jesse KrimesArtist Jesse Krimes is currently on home confinement, completing a 70-month prison term on felony drug charges. Federal authorities labeled Mr. Krimes a “drug kingpin.”

While incarcerated, Mr. Krimes established prison drawing, painting, and independent study studio art programs and worked collaboratively with his fellow inmates. He spent thousands of hours carefully transferring newspaper images to federal prison bed sheets, adding color and detail by hand, and composing a massive 39-panel mural on the themes of heaven, earth, hell, sin, redemption, and celebrity and commodity worship. He mailed individual sections of the mural home and only saw the completed composition upon his release.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site hosts Mr. Krimes for an informal discussion of how art served as a means of survival during his incarceration, followed by a one-block walk to the Olivet Church Artists’ studios, where the completed mural is presently installed. The artist has received special permission to speak at Eastern State for this event.

Edwin Desamour: An Ex-Offender's Work to Break the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Tuesday, March 4, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Edwin DesamourEdwin Desamour's life experiences have inspired him to pursue a career serving the youth in his community. When Edwin was 16 years old he was convicted of 3rd degree murder, and spent over 8 years in prison. When he returned to the community he felt a sense of urgency to prevent young people from making the same decisions. He also wanted to demystify conceptions about prison, and the lifestyle he formerly led.

Edwin’s passions led him to found MIMIC: Men in Motion in the Community. The organization is made of up men who have transformed their lives, and who are passionate about decreasing violence in the community.

William Ecenbarger and Marsha Levick: Kids for Cash

Tuesday, April 1, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

William EcenbargerWilliam Ecenbarger discusses his 2012 book, Kids for Cash, which documents a juvenile court scandal in northeastern Pennsylvania. Two judges there took nearly $3 million in kickbacks from the operators of a private juvenile detention facility.

The New York Times called the book "a harrowing tale, lucidly told by a journalist with a great eye for detail."

Marsha LevickWilliam Ecenbarger is a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter. He was part of an Inquirer team that won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. Marsha Levick, Deputy Director and Chief Counsel, Juvenile Law Center, spearheaded legal efforts on behalf of children and families who fell victim to the “Kids for Cash" scandal.

May Event - Canceled

Tuesday, May 6

Due to unforeseen circumstances, this event was canceled. We apologize for any inconvenience.

The Rise of Yoga in Prison / Yoga Workshop at Eastern State Penitentiary

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

Alexandra SchepensYoga has become increasingly popular in U.S. prisons. Inmates and administrators alike recognize benefits for practitioners, including stress reduction and improved mood.

Alexandra Schepens discusses her experience leading classes in criminal justice settings, followed by an optional 30-minute yoga class in Eastern State's cellblocks.

This class is appropriate for beginners. Dressing rooms are available at the site, but footwear is recommended at all times. Attendees should provide their own yoga mats and must sign a waiver.

Alexandra Schepens teaches yoga to people re-entering the community from prison at the Institute of Community Justice in Philadelphia. She is a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice.

The Progressive Prison Project

Tuesday, June 24, 5:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Louis GiorlaA free symposium recognizing that behavior modification prefers positive reinforcement of the good (over the constant berating of the negative), and demonstrating that there are some effective things occurring in our prisons. Featuring guests who will offer firsthand testimony to certain benefits that they received while incarcerated.

Guests include:
John WetzelLouis Giorla, Commissioner of Philadelphia Prison System
John Wetzel, Secretary of Corrections for the State of Pennsylvania

Hosted by:
Nick Taliaferro, WURD Radio

This event is presented by WURD Radio: 900 AM and will be broadcast live.
Nick Taliaferro

Reservations required. Click here to RSVP.

Karl "Dice Raw" Jenkins: Jimmy's Back

Tuesday, July 1, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Karl "Dice Raw" JenkinsJoin Karl “Dice Raw” Jenkins for a discussion and performance from his latest album, “Jimmy’s Back.” The album is a poignant artist response to the country’s Black male incarceration epidemic. Inspired by Dr. Michelle Alexander’s New York Times bestselling book, The New Jim Crow, Dice has included nearly all ex-felons as featured artists on his highly acclaimed album.

Karl “Dice Raw” Jenkins is a performer, producer, songwriter, and actor, with four Grammy nominations to his credit.

Cared Straight

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

Cared Straight with Congreso de Latinos UnidosHow have prisons changed since Eastern State Penitentiary closed? And how can discussing these trends impact Philadelphia youth? Students participating in Cared Straight, a pilot collaboration between Eastern State Penitentiary and Congreso de Latinos Unidos, have been studying these questions and will reveal their findings to the community.

The Cared Straight students are excited to share their knowledge and hope their presentation will prevent other youth from getting involved in the criminal justice system.

Congreso is a multi-service organization with an expert focus on the Latino community. Its Education and Workforce Services help youth reach their educational and careers goals.

Windows From Prison

Tuesday, September 2, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Mark Strandquist at Eastern State PenitentiaryArtist Mark Strandquist’s ongoing, nationwide project, Windows From Prison, begins with prisoners responding to the prompt, “If you could have a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out to?” High school and college students fulfill each photo request, and the images are presented to the prisoners.

Mark Strandquist is an artist, educator, and cultural organizer who utilizes interactive public installations to create understanding of systemic human rights issues. He will be working with the Village of Arts and Humanities and Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity to engage with criminal justice issues in North Philadelphia this fall.

POTLATCH: A Short Film by David Adler

Tuesday, November 4, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

David AdlerThis experimental documentary chronicles an arts and dance festival inside the Hudson Correctional Facility in Colorado. The facility houses many prisoners outsourced from Alaska. Once a year these inmates create their version of the traditional west coast Native American Potlatch festival, including their own self-choreographed dances. The festival takes place in a for-profit prison run by the GEO Group, Inc. The film has political and economic themes, but is mostly about dance, and peoples' need to move even if they will be confined for the rest of their lives.

David Adler is a New York-based documentary filmmaker. His artist installation of prisoner-painted photo backdrops, Visions of the Free World, is on view at Eastern State until December.

Offering Second Chances

Tuesday, December 2, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Rob Rosa at Eastern State PenitentiaryNew Leash on Life USA
When Norberto ‘Rob’ Rosa was thirteen years old, a judge told him that he’d be a career criminal. At eighteen, he was sentenced to twelve years in prison. A puppy training program there changed his life, and today Rob is the Director of Operations for New Leash on Life USA.

Gearing Up
While racing with Temple’s cycling team, Kaelin Proud began volunteering for Gearing Up and befriended founder Kristin Gavin. Today, she is their Program Director, providing women in transitionKaelin Proud at Eastern State Penitentiary from abuse, addiction, and/or incarceration with the skills, equipment, and guidance to safely ride a bicycle for exercise, transportation, and personal growth.

Join Rob and Kaelin for an informal conversation about the challenges and rewards of working with returning citizens, and the value of offering second chances.