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Secret Cinema: A Night at Eastern State Penitentiary

img_20160909_194649754When I found out that nearby Eastern State Penitentiary would be hosting a movie night, I couldn’t wait to go. What movie would we enjoy?

I wish I had known about this sooner, as apparently they have held this event several times before. I was really hoping to see a prison movie like Conair or Escape from New York, but it didn’t happen. To my chagrin, they were probably already shown. Instead we would watch short films lasting two hours, with no short lasting longer than a half hour. These little movies were shown using 16mm film.

I thought they would be projected outside on an inflatable screen on what was the prison’s baseball field. Instead there was seating inside the prison walls, right before Al Capone’s old cell. If Al had still been an inmate, he would have had the best seat in the cell block.

September is an unpredictable month. It usually brings with it cooler temperatures, but that wasn’t the case on movie night. The northeast was in the midst of a late summer heat wave, and the makeshift theater was sweltering. Our foursome was able to grab seats in front of the oscillating fans. They provided some relief, but I was glad we purchased bottled water at the entrance.


The first film we watched was a cartoon with Droopy as Sgt. McPoodle, Northwest Hounded Police. It looked familiar, I may have seen it before.

Next was Types of Inmates, a Canadian short designed to be shown to prison employees. It looked like it was a training film.

We also saw The Prison Community, another Canadian film for prison workers.

My favorite was The Expert, a short film about executions, the gas chamber specifically.

We were nearing the end of the last film when the fans, movie, and lights shut off, bathing us in the soft glow of emergency lighting. Everyone looked around, and Eastern State employees confirmed a power outage. They tried in vain to restore power for a few minutes, but after a while they kindly asked us to leave. They did tell us the ending of the last film we were watching, which only had about 20 minutes left before it was abruptly stopped. We made our way past the LED lanterns lighting the cell block to the outside. We found our way through the courtyard and while walking toward the exit, the power came back on, too little too late.

We left the prison and walked across the street to Urban Saloon for some drinks and snacks. I had a platter of chicken fingers and tater tots, and washed it down with a lemon basil concoction that my dining companions agreed tasted like mouthwash. Next time I will stick with the pumpkin beer.


I would love to catch Secret Cinema at Eastern State again. (Of course, I would love another trip to Urban Saloon). I wasn’t able to get on the email list for Secret Cinema because of the outage, but I am definitely interested in future shows. Next time I would like to see a full-length prison movie, I can’t believe I missed it so many times before.

5 thoughts on “Secret Cinema: A Night at Eastern State Penitentiary

  1. No kidding, Loretta, you do the neatest things, although I’d be spooked if the power went out in a prison I was visiting. All the best, my dear!

  2. Hi, Loretta! I hope you had a beautiful Thanksgiving. I hope everyone is well at your house. I won’t be at the SJ Writers’ Christmas Party, so have a wonderful holiday season. All the best to you!

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