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
Tuesday, June 3
Tuesday, July 1
Tuesday, August 5
Tuesday, September 2
Tuesday, October 7
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.

Life After Life: A Story of Hope, Transformation, and Redemption

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

Tyrone WertsTyrone A. Werts, who spent thirty-six years fighting to redeem himself, will tell the story of how he came back from the crime and punishment that was to lock him away for the rest of his life.

Mr. Werts is a consultant at the Philadelphia Public Defenders Association and serves as a Public Relations Consultant to the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at Temple University. He is also Chief Executive Officer for The End Crime Project, serves on the Mayor’s Commission on African American Males, and is currently a Soros Justice Fellow for 2013.

Prison Yoga

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

Yoga has become a popular program in many of today’s prisons. Inmates and administrators alike value the calming effects that yoga has on many practitioners.

Join Eastern State Penitentiary staff for a 20-minute discussion of prison yoga programs today, followed by a 40-minute optional yoga class on Eastern State’s baseball diamond. Please wear appropriate clothing and provide your own yoga mat. Signed waiver necessary to participate in class.

Prison Architecture Field Trip

Saturday, September 6, 10:30 am - 2:00 pm
Admission TBA. Reservations required.

A bus tour to three Philadelphia prison facilities: the site of the former Moyamensing Prison (1832), Holmesburg Prison (1896), and the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (1995). Also includes a discussion of the Federal Detention Center at Philadelphia (2000). The group will view each facility from the outside but will not enter. A short discussion with historic photographs outside each prison will describe the facility’s floor plan and major architectural features, convey dramatic chapters in that prison’s history, and will summarize the American prison system in the year that facility was built. Pack a lunch!

General admission tickets available exclusively online. ESP Members should contact Katelyn Holstein at (215) 236-5111 x24 to purchase tickets.