Written by Martin Consunji, Mark Koskei, Janice Lan, and Michael Su
On February 15th 2011, we visited Alcatraz as part of our course on tourism and authenticity. As first time visitors, we each had different expectations based on its depiction in movies and popular culture. Janice had never seen any movies about Alcatraz before, so she did not have any preconceived notions and did not expect much more than a prison on a small island with a moderately interesting history. On the other hand, Mark, Martin, and Michael had previously watched movies about Alcatraz, such as The Rock, Escape from Alcatraz, and X-Men: The Last Stand. Thus, they all had high expectations of Alcatraz as a glorified, intense, complex, and large maximum security prison.
Upon arrival on the dock of “The Rock” at around 11 o’clock, we were met by friendly park rangers who gave us a brief introduction to Alcatraz, safety instructions, and tour options. Park ranger John informed us that Alcatraz only became a national park because of its military history. Ironically, most tourists, us included, chose to embark on the audio tour of the prison rather than exploring the other different historical layers of Alcatraz.
Overall, we thought that the audio tour was very well done. The navigation was simple and easy, the narrators were clear and interesting, and the sound effects enhanced the tour and made the experience feel more authentic. Additionally, former correctional officers and inmates spoke of their personal experiences, which strengthened the credibility of the audio tour.
The tour took us through a good amount of history of the island’s prison. From detailed descriptions of the lives of the inmates to suspenseful escape stories, the audio tour kept our interest throughout the 45 minutes. We were able to see different cells, the dining and recreational areas, and even the pipes behind the cells through which some prisoners escaped.
Janice felt like her expectations were met – she learned some interesting history and got to see what the inside of a prison looked like. The tour was obviously not completely authentic, as there were no inmates, but she did not expect much more than what the tour offered. The rest of our group felt let down because they had high expectations from the glorified depictions in movies. Nevertheless, everyone enjoyed the trip and appreciated the opportunity to visit Alcatraz.