Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, founded in 1829, was a model of reform-minded penology. Designed by Pennsylvania Quakers, it entombed its inmates in utter solitude that they might better reflect on their sins and become, in a word, penitent. As you might imagine, however, a good many inmates simply went barking mad. In his 2001 book, Going Up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation (now out in paperback from Random House), Chicago-based journalist Joseph T. Hallinan explores the history of the American penal system to figure out just how we got from Eastern State to Tamms, downstate Illinois' new supermax prison, where inmates are cloistered in extreme solitary for a different reason (punishment, say critics; security, say fans) but with the same result. Sturdily sourced and footnoted, Going Up the River is a surprising manifesto that succeeds through Hallinan's rigorous marshaling of the facts. Connecting the dots between the rise of the Black Muslims, mandatory sentencing minimums, privatization, and the desperate economy of postindustrial rural America, he lays out an airtight indictment of a system that's produced one of the nation's few thriving growth industries. Hallinan reads at 7 PM on Tuesday, March 16, at 57th Street Books, 1301 E. 57th, 773-684-1300.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andrew Hollings.