Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison: A True Story of Abuse and Exploitation in the Name of Medical Science

Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison: A True Story of Abuse and Exploitation in the Name of Medical Science

Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison: A True Story of Abuse and Exploitation in the Name of Medical Science

Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison: A True Story of Abuse and Exploitation in the Name of Medical Science

Synopsis

At a time of increased interest and renewed shock over the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, Acres of Skin sheds light on yet another dark episode of American medical history. In this disturbing expose, Allen M. Hornblum tells the story of Philadelphia's Holmesburg Prison.

Excerpt

On a sweltering September morning in 1971, I took my first apprehensive steps inside the Philadelphia Detention Center to teach an adult literacy class. The prison bustled with activity; no one seemed to be locked up. Prisoners—most of them black, dressed in light blue cotton shirts over dark navy pants—moved in a dozen different directions, without apparent guidance or supervision. A few of the inmates displayed the same fear my eyes must have shown, but most swaggered brazenly, cursing and joking as if the steel and cinderblock facility that held them captive were just another neighborhood hangout. To a white, middle-class, 23-year-old who had just completed graduate school on Philadelphia’s lush and conservative Main Line, the detention center was as remote as the far side of the moon.

As I toured the institution, I gradually adjusted to the foul odors, the jeers and hooting from prisoners, the suspicious glares from guards, and to a supercharged intercom that alternated commands and announcements with Top-40 R&B tunes. The most peculiar sight that first day, the sight to which I could not and never did adjust, is the subject of this book. Scores of men, bare chested in the oppressive heat, were covered with gauze pads and adhesive tape. As they ambled between the cell blocks, gymnasium, and dining hall, I wondered about the violence that had caused the multiple wounds covering their backs, shoulders, and arms. Were they knife wounds from a prison brawl? Was the prison so unsafe? I looked more closely and gradually noticed that the gauze and tape were laid out in an oddly symmetrical pattern. A few days later, I asked a guard on A Block, John Reeves, about my discovery. He answered matter-of-factly: “They’re part of the perfume test being run by the

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