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.