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