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 2016 schedule is as follows:

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

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

The Searchlight Series is supported in part by a grant from The Pennsylvania Abolition Society Endowment Fund of The Philadelphia Foundation.


Jamira Burley: Criminal Justice Reform: Speaking from Personal Experience

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

Jamira BurleyAfter the repeat incarceration of both of her parents and all ten of her older brothers, Jamira Burley became a champion for community engagement and criminal justice reform. Ms. Burley is a 2015 Leading With Conviction advocate at JustLeadershipUSA, which empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform.

Jamira Burley works for Amnesty International USA on issues of gun violence and criminal justice. She previously served as the Executive Director for the City of Philadelphia Youth Commission, where she was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change.

Barbie Fischer: Restorative Justice

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

Barbie FischerDeveloped from indigenous practices around the world, restorative justice is a way of dealing with hurt and harm. Restorative justice focuses on the healing of victims and offenders through dialogue and truth telling in ways that offer dignity and respect to all stakeholders affected.

Barbie Fischer is the Executive Director of Restorative Encounters, a restorative justice organization. She works with prisoners and their families, veterans, and former child soldiers.

Joe Slobodzian: Covering Philadelphia’s Criminal Courts

Joe SlobodzianTuesday, March 1, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Joe Slobodzian will speak about current issues in the city’s criminal court system and their intersection with the issues of 21st century urban America.

A native of Philadelphia, Slobodzian has worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for more than four decades. Since 1982, he has worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he has covered criminal justice and legal issues, including federal courts and Philadelphia criminal courts.

Harold JordanHarold Jordan: Stopping the Criminalization of Youth – Notes from the Field

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

Over the past few decades, a significant rise in the number of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and referrals of students to the police – marked by an extraordinary level of racial bias – has stoked conversation about a “school-to-prison pipeline.” Building on years of research and advocacy, Harold Jordan will discuss some of the major obstacles to fixing our schools’ dependence on these measures, and some of the practices implemented in forward-looking school communities.

Mr. Jordan is the Senior Policy Advocate at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the author of Beyond Zero Tolerance: Discipline and Policing in Pennsylvania Schools. He chairs the board of The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a nonprofit news service reporting on public education.

Jeremy TravisJeremy Travis: Mass Incarceration: How Did We Get Here? What Are the Prospects for Change?

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

Jeremy Travis recently chaired the National Research Council’s committee on the causes and consequences of high rates of incarceration. He will discuss the dimensions of mass incarceration, and what strategies might succeed in forging a new path for American criminal justice.

Jeremy Travis is president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. He has more than three decades of experience as a public servant, including as director of the National Institute of Justice and Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters for the News York City Police Department.

Mike Huggins: Yoga in Prison

Mike HugginsTuesday, June 7, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Mike Huggins, a registered yoga instructor, will speak about yoga's ability to reduce stress and anxiety, heal trauma, and improve overall quality of life. He will then lead a brief yoga class for attendees on the prison's baseball diamond (weather permitting). Guests are invited to bring a yoga mat and to dress comfortably.

Mike Huggins is the Executive Director of Transformation Yoga Project, which teaches yoga and mindfulness to at-risk and underserved populations, including individuals in several Philadelphia correctional facilities.

Annie Anderson & Sean Kelley: Development of Nation’s First Museum Exhibit on Mass Incarceration

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

Annie Anderson and Sean KelleyEastern State staff members Annie Anderson and Sean Kelley will discuss their work creating Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, including both successes and failures in the process. Three years in the making, the exhibit challenges visitors to reexamine the role and effectiveness of prisons in America, while building empathy for those impacted.

Annie Anderson is the Senior Specialist for Research and Public Programming at Eastern State. She oversaw exhibit research and prototyping. Sean Kelley is Senior Vice President and Director of Interpretation. He led the exhibit development team.

Presentation followed by informal tour of Prisons Today.

Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve: Criminal Courts and Mass Incarceration

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

Nicole Gonzalez Van CleveNicole Gonzalez Van Cleve will discuss how America’s criminal courts act as a crucial gateway for mass incarceration. She spent ten years working in and investigating the largest criminal courthouse in the country, Chicago-Cook County. She reflects on that experience in her new book, Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court.

Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve is an Assistant Professor at Temple University in the Department of Criminal Justice with courtesy appointments in the Department of Sociology and the Beasley School of Law. Her legal commentary has been featured on NBC News, MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, and CNN.

Caleb Smith: Race and Incarceration in an 1850s Prison Memoir

Caleb SmithTuesday, September 6, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Caleb Smith was part of a team of Yale scholars that recently discovered and authenticated the earliest known prison memoir by an African American writer. Smith will discuss his role bringing to light Austin Reed’s The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict. Reed wrote his memoir while incarcerated in New York’s Auburn State Prison in the 1850s.

Caleb Smith is a professor of English and American Studies at Yale University. He is the author of The Oracle and the Curse and The Prison and the American Imagination.

Dee Hibbert-Jones & Nomi Talisman: Last Day of Freedom

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

Last Day of FreedomAn award-winning animated short film telling the story of Bill Babbit’s decision to stand by his brother in the face of war, crime and, eventually, capital punishment. (32 minutes followed by Q&A with the filmmakers.)

Dee Hibbert-Jones & Nomi Talisman are artists/filmmakers who bring to life larger issues of criminal justice and civic responsibility. Their work blends animation and documentary forms to move beyond dehumanizing statistics, striving for empathy and critical reflection.

Johnny Perez: The Truth about Solitary Confinement

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

Johnny PerezJohnny Perez will speak about the policy and practice of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. He will discuss the psychological consequences of prolonged isolation, as well as reform efforts at the state and national levels.

Johnny Perez is a reentry advocate for the Urban Justice Center in New York City. He spent three years out of a 13-year sentence for armed robbery in solitary confinement, and he draws on his personal and professional experience in his work as a national advocate for solitary reform. He also co-chairs the Communications Committee for the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement.

Heather Ann Thompson: BLOOD IN THE WATER: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy

Heather Ann ThompsonPresented by Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site and The African American Museum in Philadelphia. Conversation led by Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor.
Wednesday, November 9, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch Street
Free to the public

Blood in the Water, Heather Ann Thompson’s new title from Pantheon Press, is a gripping account of one of this nation’s most famous civil rights protests–one that ended in tragedy with law enforcement killing dozens of unarmed men and severely wounding more than a hundred others....

Blood in the Water is extraordinary— a true gift to the written history of civil rights and racial justice struggles in America.”
—Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow

Dr. Heather Ann Thompson is an award-winning historian at the University of Michigan. She has written on the history of mass incarceration, as well as its current impact, for The New York Times, Time, The Atlantic, Salon, Dissent, New Labor Forum, and The Huffington Post.

NOTE: This event takes place at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch Street. No reservations required.

Jennifer Murphy: The Enduring Stigma of Drug Addiction

Jennifer MurphyTuesday, December 6, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Free. No reservations required.

Is drug addiction a disease that can be treated, or is it a crime that should be punished? In her probing study Illness or Deviance? Jennifer Murphy investigates our various perspectives on addiction, and the myriad ways American courts handle it—incarcerating some drug users while putting others in treatment.

Jennifer Murphy is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Penn State Berks. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from Temple University in 2008.