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Eastern State Welcomes Back Live Audiences for The Searchlight Series

-- October 5 event, presented in partnership with The Incarceration Nations Network, tackles issues of global mass incarceration --

September 30, 2021

For the first time in more than 18 months, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site will host The Searchlight Series with a live audience on Tuesday, October 5 from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. The program, presented in partnership with The Incarceration Nations Network (INN), will include a film screening outdoors on the penitentiary’s baseball diamond, followed by a panel discussion.

The October installment of The Searchlight Series, Eastern State Penitentiary’s monthly speaker series, is titled “Correcting Correctional Centers.” It will focus on the issue of mass incarceration, widely regarded as one of the greatest human and civil rights catastrophes of our time. The event will begin at 6:00 p.m. with a screening of Incarceration Nations: A Global Docuseries, a mixed-media series about global mass incarceration narrated entirely by those who have lived incarceration around the world, from England to El Salvador, Argentina to the USA, Brazil and Lebanon to South Africa and Sierra Leone. The ten episodes of Incarceration Nations expose an international crisis while also spotlighting solutions, showcasing the work of INN justice partners from one continent to another. Selected to have its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival 2021, the series is currently being screened in communities worldwide.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Baz Dreisinger of INN, a global network and think tank that supports innovative prison reform efforts around the world; Daryl Norcott of AMEND, an organization that aims to transform correctional culture; Sarah Pearson from Unlocked Graduates, a U.K.-based organization that seeks to attract high-caliber candidates for careers in corrections; and Miwa Kato, the Director of the Division for Operations at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna, who oversees field-based technical assistance supporting the Member States and actors to deal with the challenges of rule of law, criminality, and justice.

The film screening and panel discussion will be presented on a large screen for the live audience, and will also be streamed live on Zoom and Facebook for those who can’t attend in person. Admission is free, but seating will be limited and will be available on a first-come basis. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.

Eastern State’s COVID-19 safety measures will remain in place during The Searchlight Series. Staff and visitors ages two and older, including those who are vaccinated, will be required to wear masks while indoors. Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the site. Plexiglass shields will separate visitors from staff at various points of contact. Cleaning, particularly of high-touch surfaces, will be increased.

About The Searchlight Series:
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site partners with nationally recognized experts to present a monthly discussion series about crime, justice, and the American prison system. Previous topics include the history of sex offense laws, ending long-term solitary confinement, living in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic, the criminalization of Black identity, and voting rights for incarcerated people.

The Searchlight Series discussions take place the first Tuesday of every month, free and open to the public. No reservations required. For more information about The Searchlight Series, visit

About The Writing on the Wall:
The Writing on the Wall is a shape-shifting collaboration between professor and activist Dr. Baz Dreisinger, artist Hank Willis Thomas, and a growing list of design and production partners including Openbox, MASS Design and Chemistry Creative. It is, among other things, an artwork made from essays, poems, letters, stories, diagrams and notes written by people in prison around the world. It its fullest form it debuted on the High Line in NYC.

The Writing on the Wall is housed within the justice work of the Incarceration Nations Network (INN): a global network and think tank that supports, instigates and popularizes innovative prison reform efforts around the world. With 101 partners spanning every continent and more than 50 countries, INN uses The Writing on the Wall as an anchorage point and artistic soapbox for justice partners, believing in the power of the visual to emphasize creative approaches to justice. Says Dr. Dreisinger, "We occupy public spaces to push for radical imagination at the intersection of art and social justice."

In response to the global pandemic's dire impact on the carceral population, The Writing on the Wall transformed its 600 square foot installation into a digital version that took over cityscapes as the world faced lockdown. By partnering with local projection collectives, the artwork was featured guerilla-style on jails, courts, and iconic sites in New York City, Washington DC, Columbus OH, Mexico City, Chicago, IL and Boise, ID. This transformation also includes the writings wheatpasted in neighborhoods across the US--featuring QR codes taking people to Incarceration Nations Network’s website.

The Writing on the Wall On Wheels is another iteration conceived within the restrictions of the ongoing pandemic. In the form of a mobile truck and public digital display, the truck exhibits The Writing on the Wall as well as teasers and episodes of Incarceration Nations: A Global Docuseries, INN’s award-winning TV debut.

Exploring the possibilities of public art and pushing the boundaries of visual interaction, TWOTW On Wheels operates within the social-distance parameters of a pandemic. The truck moves through cities and towns, screening The Writing on the Wall along with a glimpse of Incarceration Nations: A Global Docuseries, INN’s acclaimed mixed-media series about global mass incarceration. Screenings are usually accompanied by discussions, creative activations and other collaborations with INN partners on the ground.

About Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site:
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site interprets the legacy of American criminal justice reform, from the nation’s founding through to the present day, within the long-abandoned cellblocks of the nation’s most historic prison.

Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells held approximately 80,000 men and women during its 142 years of operation, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is open for tours year-round. Admission includes “The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi; award-winning exhibits; and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations.

In recent years, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has been awarded the prestigious Excellence in Exhibitions award by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the nation’s highest award in exhibition development and design, for its exhibit Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, as well as the Institutional Award for Special Achievement from the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and the Trustee Emeritus Award for Stewardship from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Returning Citizens Tour Guide Project, which hires people who were formerly incarcerated to lead tours of the historic site, has won the EdCom Award for Innovation in Museum Education by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and has been featured internationally by such networks as the BBC and others.

For more information, visit


2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner