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'In Prison Air': Echoes of Life Behind Bars

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'In Prison Air': Echoes of Life Behind Bars

Art & Design

'In Prison Air': Echoes of Life Behind Bars

'In Prison Air': Echoes of Life Behind Bars

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5064514/5064517" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In the northeast corner of Philadelphia, an abandoned penitentiary shelters a terrible past. For more than a century, the Holmesburg Prison housed convicts in long, thin cellblocks, with as many as five inmates occupying a single six-by-eight foot cell.

Before it was shut down a decade ago, Holmesburg was notorious for the experiments carried out on prisoners over a 25-year period. Inmates sometimes earned extra money by volunteering to test everything from skin creams to LSD.

Cell D408 of Holmesburg Prison Thomas Roma/powerHouse Books hide caption

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Thomas Roma/powerHouse Books

Those abandoned cells attracted Thomas Roma, a well-known artist and director of photography at Columbia University School of the Arts. His new book of photos of some of those now-dilapidated cells, In Prison Air: The Cells of Holmesburg Prison, evokes the hopes of the former inmates amid a hopeless situation.