Inmate-Painted Mural Removed for Conservation From Abandoned Prison Museum

The Penitent Prisoner Saved From Eastern State Penitentiary

Mar 14, 2011, 12:41 ET from Eastern State Penitentiary

PHILADELPHIA, March 14, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- The Penitent Prisoner, an inmate-painted mural adorning the walls of Eastern State Penitentiary's Catholic Chaplain's Office, will be removed from the abandoned prison museum on Wednesday, March 16. Mural conservator Cassie Myers will take the painting to the Milner + Carr conservation studio in Philadelphia, where it will be restored before its April 2012 reinstallment.

This mural is the iconic image painted by inmate Lester Smith in 1955 as a part of his yearlong work decorating the two-room office with 23 Catholic-themed murals. In the image, a prisoner is seen praying to a priest, and above them, a prisoner is being absolved by Jesus in heaven.  

Smith, a convicted felon, converted to Catholicism in prison.  He served his time and went on to live a model life.  He held a job until retirement, returned to his wife and two children, had more children and then grandchildren, and remained a faithful Catholic.

After the penitentiary closed in 1971, the murals suffered from drastic temperature changes and water infiltration.  In 1995, Ms. Myers stabilized them with a layer of wax and rice paper to consolidate the remaining paint and keep them adhered to the wall surface.  

As part of Eastern State's effort to permanently conserve these murals and open them to the public, Ms. Myers will eventually clean and conserve them all.  The Penitent Prisoner is the mural most in peril.  Water migrating into the wall behind the mural has deteriorated the plaster enough that the mural has begun to peel off.  On March 16, Ms. Myers will more fully stabilize the mural's front and carefully remove it.

Visitors will be able to visit the Chaplain's Office (with all the murals except The Penitent Prisoner, which will be reproduced there) every day of the 2011 season as part of the new Hands-On History program.  The space has never been open during public hours.  Hands-On History will have a special launch weekend on Saturday and Sunday, April 2 and 3.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site

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.

Tours today include the cellblocks, solitary punishment cells, Al Capone's Cell, and Death Row. Admission includes "The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour narrated by Steve Buscemi and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations.  Eastern State Penitentiary is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $8 for students and children ages 7-12 (not recommended for children under the age of seven). The penitentiary is open every day, year round.  For more information and schedules, please visit

SOURCE Eastern State Penitentiary