This blog is part of an exchange between students at Stanford and CCNY, for their studies in the rhetoric of architecture, space and tourism.
“Please don’t feed the birds!” the announcement blasted over the bow packed with eager tourists trying to steady themselves as the Rock nudged the boat. Towering above the tempestuous bay, the fortress-like prison came into view. We, Cindy, Wyatt, and Jon, gathered up our belongings and with deep anticipation got off the ship. The moment we stepped onto the island a wave of fear and dread crashed upon us. Here was the Rock. Here was where prisoners met their fate: a sentence to be served on Alcatraz.
We anxiously ascended the thirteen-story trail that zigzagged toward the cell house. Upon seeing the structure, Wyatt announced, “Oh, the intensity of Alcatraz!” Cindy exclaimed similarly, “It’s white and has bars. How excruciating it must have been to look out at beautiful San Francisco everyday through their barred windows!”
We began the audio tour of the prison. Voices of prisoners past filled our ears. We were taken back to the early 20th century. We walked in the footsteps of the notorious American gangster Al Capone and the infamous murderer “The Birdman.” We listened to the harrowing stories of the bloodiest escape attempt in the history of American penitentiaries: the Battle of Alcatraz. We saw the pockmarks of where the military had attempted to subdue the uproar. We were there.
Entering into D-block, we subjected ourselves to the solitary confinement cells. The fear that had previously been suffocating us grew in intensity as we were enveloped in the darkness of the solitary confinement cells.
This was authentic. Like a replica of H.G. Wells’s time machine, the audio tour drew us back in time. In front of us lay scenes of prisoners’ sufferings. The groaning split our ears. Our hearts were torn asunder by their pain. We all agreed that this was the epitome of authenticity.
We stepped back onto the boat headed across the bay, headed back toward freedom.
Wyatt, Cindy, and Jon