Escape to Alcatraz

On the 15th of February we visited Alcatraz as a part of our course on tourism and authenticity. Our venture began as we boarded the ferry on a dreary Tuesday morning. As we made our way across the bay, a massive rainbow appeared out of the sky, ironically pointing towards Alcatraz and thereby indicating that what awaited us was a metaphorical pot of gold. Upon landing on “the Rock,” we realized that despite our giddy excitement about bursting the Stanford bubble, we immediately became ensconced in the stern atmosphere of a former prison. The National Park Ranger who greeted the crowd quickly spotted us as students and came to interrogate our professor to determine our status as school group. After all, a group of Stanford hoodlums cannot be expected to explore a national park responsibly.

With our paperwork approved, we were let into the prison and led to the shower room, where we received our audio tours from uniformed “prison guards.”  The tour commenced at Broadway, the main corridor where prisoners traditionally began their time at Alcatraz. Directing us around the prison were our audio guide narrators, former inmates and employees. Ordered from cell to cell, they exposed us to the prison’s grim history. The guides discussed everyday life at Alcatraz, emphasizing the many rules and regulations the prison relied on to run smoothly. All basic necessities were provided for, but it was a privilege to “enjoy” the island’s best amenities, such as sunlit rooms and the occasional trip outdoors.

The audio tour addressed a popular topic: escape from Alcatraz. Given the compound’s security and the island’s isolation, escape was essentially impossible. Our guides boasted that the only successful escapees most likely drowned in the frigid bay water. On this cheery note, we proceeded out along the same path taken by prisoners leaving Alcatraz. Then, acting like convicts starved for the outside world ourselves, we raced down to the ferry (after the obligatory gift shop stop, of course) to catch the first train home.


Caroline Bank, Angela Chou, Pearly Meixsel, and Anh Truong

Stanford University

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8 Responses to Escape to Alcatraz

  1. Stephanie Y. says:

    Seeing as Alcatraz is a tourist experience, I thought it was really weird as well that they treated us almost like convicts in order to replicate the authentic experience. Although it might have made some of the tourists uncomfortable, I guess it’s obviously what most tourists want out of their trip to Alcatraz. It’s a bit of evidence to the maybe false “authentic” experience that tourist sites market to their tourists.
    -Stephanie Y.

  2. Tim and Max says:

    We believe that Alcatraz did purposefully attempt to create that type of stern atmosphere to make the tourists feel like a part of the prison.

    We also thought that the way the park ranger treated us was a little silly. He made it sound like all school groups are automatically a bunch of hooligans that have to be accounted for.


    Tim and Max

  3. Toni C. says:

    Although I didn’t actually go to Alcatraz, the description you guys provided definitely gives me a better feel for the location. Although “pictures speak a thousand words,” there were a bunch of logistical things that happened that contributed to the overall experience.

    Well done :))

    P.S. I especially liked your commentary on the gift shop.

  4. Pooja Pradhan says:

    I thought that this was a good overview of the Alcatraz tour and I really like all your pictures. =] But like Stephanie, I also thought it was weird that we were treated like convicts throughout the audio tour, but I guess to be an “authentic experience” that would make sense. There were not really a whole lot of tourists and visitors during the time that Alcatraz was open as a prison.

  5. Cameron Fleming says:

    My experience on the rock was the same, yet I felt that the way that they treated us was sort of ironic. The fact that Alcatraz is famous for its prison is known to all, but with Ranger John attempting to highlight the other aspects of the island such as the indian history and the nature reserve you would think that there would be a bit more freedom in the experience. Being shuffled around place to place in a systematic order does not really fit the bill.

  6. Alexandra To says:

    I did not have the same experience with the park ranger, so perhaps that is why I don’t feel like I was “treated like a prisoner.” Even though the audio guide becomes very personal and puts the listener into the situation, I think I never broke from my “tourist” awareness. But I am fascinated by this experience that you had and this sort of authenticity that was pushed.

  7. Michael Su says:

    I do agree that we experienced a sudden change in atmosphere when we arrived in Alcatraz, but I didn’t feel like I was treated like a convict when I participated into the audio tour. I felt some of the feelings that convicts in Alcatraz felt in the prison, but i fully didn’t think that I was a convict myself. Overall however, I feel that Alcatraz conveyed its authenticity as best as they possibly could, and it was certainly one of the most illuminating trips that I ever took.

  8. Alex says:

    I like your creative approach in writing this blog post. I thought that it was interesting to learn about the rules of the prision. For example, prisoners were only entitled to food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention; beyond that, everything else was a privilege. A tough life, indeed.

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