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But the debate in England on the silent and solitary systems was far from over. In 1834 the home secretary sent William Crawford, a member of the Prison Discipline Society (established in 1818 by the English Quakers and modelled on the Philadelphia Prisoners' Aid Society), to the United States to investigate the Auburn and Pennsylvania systems and to report on their respective merits. Crawford clearly favoured the Philadelphia system as the more effective and humane method of discipline.

In judging of the comparative merits of the two systems, it will be seen that the discipline of Auburn is of a physical, that of Philadelphia of a moral character. The whip inflicts immediate pain. but solitude inspires permanent terror. The former degrades while it humiliates; the latter subdues but does not debase. At Auburn the convict is uniformly treated with harshness, at Philadelphia with' civility. The one contributes to harden, the other to soften the affections. Auburn stimulates vindictive feelings: Philadelphia induces habitual submission.56

Crawford, in advocating the Philadelphia model as the basis for the new Pentonville Penitentiary, cited the English pedigree of its system of discipline, the Penitentiary Act of 1779, and the institution established at Gloucester under Paul's directing hand to emphasize that the American model was in fact 'British in its origin, British in its actual application, British in its legislative sanction.'57 Crawford recommended, however, that because of the rigours of solitary confinement eighteen months should be the maximum time spent under such a regime.58

Crawford's counsel was influential, and work began on the planning and construction of a model prison. Pentonville Penitentiary was opened in 1842 and represented 'the culmination of the history of efforts to devise a perfectly rational and reformative mode of imprisonment, a history that stretches back to John Howard's first formulation of the ideal of penitentiary discipline in 1779.'59

Michael Ignatieff's account of Pentonville, more than any other description, provides us with clear images of the nature of solitary confinement in the penitentiary in the nineteenth century.

Standing on a huge 6-acre site, behind 25-foot high walls, it loomed over the workers' quarters around it, a massive, three-pronged fortress of the law.

[The prisoner's cell] was 13lfl feet from barred window to bolted door, 7lfl feet from wall to wall, and 9 feet from floor to ceiling. The contents were spare: a table, a chair, a cobbler's bench, a hammer, broom, bucket and a comer shelf. On the shelf stood a pewter mug, and a dish, a bar of soap, a towel, and a Bible. Except for exercises and chapel, every minute of his day was spent in this space among these objects ...

In the 1840s a convict's day at Pentonville began at 5:45 A.M.At 6:00 A.M. the convict heard footsteps pausing outside his cell door, and, without looking up, he knew that the warder's eyes were sweeping over him from the inspection hole, checking the order of his cell, making sure that he was at work at his cobbler's bench ...The labour was long and incessant, an hour and a half before breakfast, three hours before lunch, four hours in the afternoon ...After dinner, the prisoner had two hours to himself to pace the cell, to write a letter, to think, or to read from the Bible. At 9:00 P.M. the gas guttered and dropped, levers were pulled, and the double bolts crashed down across the cell door. Lights out. Lying on his hammock, in the blackness of his cell, the convict could hear the muffled tread of the wardens, the clink of their sabres against their leggings, and the clang as they punched in at the clocks posted along the galleries. Sometimes, beneath all the other sounds, he could hear the patter of the prison telegraph through the walls and drainpipes. All night the men struggled through the stone to reach each other with laborious messages as faint as heartbeats ...

The night was the hardest time of all. Sleep was likely to be fitful and restless. A convict worked out the night watching the stars or the clouds scudding across the moon through the cell window, and listening to the catacomb silence ...the wardens came for the ones who cried out and took them down to the infirmary ...Every year at Pentonville between five and fifteen men were taken away to the asylums. If they remained insane, they were confined in the asylum for the rest of their lives; if they recovered, they were brought back to finish their time...

If the solitude and the silence drove some to madness, it drove a few others to suicide ...Some prisoners were broken by Pentonville, but others were not. A few fought its discipline openly... the birch and the cat were used on prisoners who assaulted or swore at wardens. For lesser breaches of discipline the usual punishment was a term in the dark cells, black holes in the basement of the building ...Most convicts gave up trying to fight Pentonville. They settled into the routine, kept out of trouble, and waited out their time. Some showed no apparent signs of being damaged by the silence and the solitude, but most prisoners bore its mark.

Upon release, convicts were set off by the visible signs of their confinement -the liberty clothing, the shaven head, and the pallor of their skin. Then there were the marks inside. Those who observed prisoners upon their release noticed that many suffered from bouts of hysteria or crying. Others found the sounds of the street deafening and asked for cotton wool to stop up their ears ...Even those who thought they had got used to solitude found themselves dreaming about the prison long after. They would hear the bolts crashing shut in their sleep - and the screams.60

As I will seek to show, these images continue to have a terrible relevance in the Canadian penitentiary today.

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Pentonville Penitentiary