Former inmates experimented on at Holmesburg Prison call for reparations

"I thought he was turned into a monster," said one woman.

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Thursday, April 27, 2023
Former inmates experimented on at Holmesburg Prison call for reparations
Former inmates experimented on at Holmesburg Prison call for reparations

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Saint Joseph's University offered a safe space for former inmates to share their voices on Wednesday.

Decades ago, inmates became test subjects while serving time at Philadelphia's Holmesburg Prison.

Now, they're sharing experiences, while also calling for reparations.

The discussion was held on Wednesday to openly talk about reparations for the inmates who were experimented on at the Philadelphia Holmesburg Prison during the 1950s and 1970s.

The inmates were used as guinea pigs for extreme medical experiments conducted by the University of Pennsylvania.

Last October, Philadelphia officials recognized this and issued a formal apology.

Action News heard from those who were experimented on for the first time on Wednesday.

"They put some kind of radiation on my back in four places. When my skin came back it was like leather," said former inmate Herbert Rice.

Rice was in prison for roughly two years.

He says the worst experiment involved a series of pills.

"What was told to me afterward, was that it was full of some type of living organism inside of these pills you were taking," said Rice.

Adrianne Jones-Alston wasn't an inmate there, but her father was.

"From the tip of his neck down to the back of his thighs, it was marred. At that time it was sores. When I first saw it I ran," she recalled. "I ran to my mother because I was like five years old. I thought he was turned into a monster."

Author Allen Hornblum is the person who's largely responsible for bringing this to light.

"Experiments dealing with asbestos, for chemical warfare agents, for dioxin. They were not told what they were exposed to or injected with, they were given chump change," said Hornblum.

The discussion was about keeping these stories in the forefront and also about education so that this doesn't happen again.

Moving forward, those who suffered at Holmesburg say they believe reparations should be paid by all who profited from the experiments.

"If it's giving contributions to the families and descendants, or giving scholarships for those who were affected, or providing mental health treatments," said Jones-Alston.

"Yes, the University of Pennsylvania for sure, because they made millions of dollars and are still making millions of dollars," said Hornblum.

Action News reached out to the University of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia for a response to the calls for reparations, but we did not get a response.