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Recalling Active Days, Eastern State Pen Holds Toy Drive For Kids of Parents In Prison

(An undated Christmas photo of prisoners and staffers at Eastern State Penitentiary.  Used with permission)

(An undated Christmas photo of prisoners and staffers at Eastern State Penitentiary. Used with permission)

Michelle Durham Michelle Durham
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By Michelle Durham

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Extending a long tradition, the staff at the historic Eastern State Penitentiary is holding a toy drive for the children of incarcerated parents.

Mentoring tour guide Ben Bookman says even when the prison, at 21st Street and Fairmount, was a working penitentiary, Christmas was a special time — even for the prisoners.

“Depending on the year, Christmas was always celebrated here,” he tells KYW Newsradio.  “In the earlier years it might have only been a special meal.  But still, every Christmas day, inmates got mince pies and holiday foods.  In the later years they added decorations and Christmas trees, and tried to make the day special for everyone.”

Bookman says the warden’s journal indicates mistletoe was sent to the prison as well.  And he says the holiday spirit rubbed off on the inmates.

“We are doing a holiday toy drive to collect toys to the children of incarcerated parents. It does come from prison history that there were points when inmates themselves had an ‘Honor and Friendship Club,’ and they would come together and build toys and get toys donated to give to children whose parents were incarcerated.   And that is something that we are continuing today.”

For more information go to www.easternstate.org.

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