The Eastern Echo & The Umpire: Contextualizing The Penal Press of Eastern State Penitentiary

In this episode, Annenberg doctoral student and Center for Media at Risk steering committee member Anjali DasSarma speaks with Damon McCool, Senior Specialist of Research and Public Programming at Eastern State Penitentiary about the history of the penal press, which has roots in the notorious Philadelphia prison. Eastern State Penitentiary is now a museum with exhibits that focus on religion, welfare and contemporary mass incarceration and policing that disproportionately imprison Black Americans. In its years of operation, the penal press at Eastern State burgeoned through The Umpire and The Eastern Echo. McCool delves into the history of the two publications, which covered everything from the relationship between the warden and the incarcerated writers, to sports inside the walls and the mid-century artwork featured on the covers of The Echo.


Anjali DasSarma is a PhD student at the Annenberg School for Communication, holds a masters degree in American Studies from Brown University and is a member of the Center for Media at Risk Steering Committee. Her research meets at the junction of community and journalistic practices, race, historiography and equity, inspired by scholars like Michel-Rolph Trouillot. Her work examines both the cultural studies and political economy of journalism, centering journalists as actors in the production of knowledge, norms and history and as well as structures of media power, capitalism and hegemony.

Damon McCool is a historian who currently serves as Senior Specialist of Research and Public Programming at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site. He has an M.A. in History from The City College of New York and nearly a decade of experience working in museums and with currently and formerly incarcerated people. His work has contributed to exhibits and public programs on topics such as healthcare in prisons, prison journalism, sports and leisure in prisons, and tattooing in prisons. McCool is also an Official Visitor of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, touring prisons and jails throughout the state advocating for incarcerated people and their families.

This episode was produced and edited by Anjali DasSarma