Life on the Rock

On 15th February we visited Alcatraz as part of our course on tourism and authenticity. In order to have a more authentic experience, we attempted to view Alcatraz in the eyes of a newly arrived prisoner.

“From afar, the island looks like a paradise in the middle of the Bay, but as soon as the boat took off and I felt the rough waves and harsh wind, and I realized how tough life was about to become.  Once I stepped foot on shore, I was forced up a steep, winding hill leading to my home for the next few years.  I was thrown into the showers with my fellow inmates. “Not quite like home,” I thought to myself.  Then we were all corralled to our one-man cells.  I was so cramped in this lonely, empty box, like a caged animal. 

There are windows everywhere; sometimes I get the chance to peer out, and I can hear the noises of the city, yet I know I am trapped on this rock. When it was time to eat we all headed to the dining hall and the decent food was our only reward for behaving. As soon as eating was over, it was back to my little cage. Even though they offered us a recreation yard to play in, the weather was so horrific that the decision between free movement and our cell was a hard one.

As the days passed by, I started learning other people’s names and realized that I could have a semi-normal life here. I turned back to painting, which was quite wonderful since I haven’t painted since I was a teenager. Painting was no way to earn a living. Even though I found something to pass my time, the bars between me and freedom were never lifted.”

While we were able to follow the steps of past inmates, unlike them we were able to leave the island whenever we chose. As we boarded the ferry with our class, we left the story of our imagined prisoner behind.  Our vision of life on Alcatraz is inherently more glamorous than reality, but by viewing the prison through his eyes we were able to get a glance at the real Alcatraz.

~Alexandra T., Cameron W., Pooja P., Sally M.

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6 Responses to Life on the Rock

  1. Kate says:

    How were you able to remember the transcript of the audio tour?
    -Anh Truong and Caroline Bank

    • Alexandra To says:

      This wasn’t directly from the audio guide, this was an interpretation of what we felt a new prisoner would have experienced.

  2. Kate says:

    I really enjoyed the way you vividly described the visit to Alcatraz from the perspective of a new convict. The introduction and conclusion in which you, as free tourists, nicely contrast with the caged life of a prisoner. Having visited the island myself, I sensed a similar change in emotion as I proceeded out of the cell and onto the boat.

    – Pao

  3. Cameron Fleming says:

    I enjoyed the look into the eyes of a prisoner at Alcatraz and the descriptions from the audio tour was good. How do you feel the relationships between the inmates and the guards were? I feel like this was left out during the audio tour and was something that could have been highlighted more.

  4. Olivia Jew says:

    I really liked the way you guys took a more creative approach to giving an account of your experience at Alcatraz. Did the tour and the audio portion of the tour help create this idea of what it would have been like for a prisoner? How? And do you think it was a realistic portrayal or more dramatized?

  5. Janice Lan says:

    Interesting point of view for blogging – I remember I tried to think from a prisoner’s perspective during some parts of the audio tour, but it seems like your group got a much more authentic experience by viewing the entire trip from the eyes of a prisoner. Did you ever think about escaping (as a pretend inmate) though? Escape stories were a significant part of the audio tour but you guys seemed to be pretty well-behaved prisoners in this blog…

    -Janice

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