We recently spent the day at Alcatraz. I have never been to Alcatraz and I must say that I was a little nervous about going there. I didn’t know how I would feel going to what is the quintessential prison. Would I be nervous? Would I be emotional? Who knows.
I was surprised how quickly the boat made the 1.4 mile trip and as the island got closer, I was surprised how small it was. It was like seeing the White House for the first time. You have these visions of grandeur and then are surprised by how small it really is.
As we got off the boat and began our self-guided tour I was really surprised by the gardening. It was majestic. And talk about stark contrast. Here is the most notorious prison in the world, with concrete and steel everywhere, pain and suffering seeping out of the walls and you are surrounded by some of the most gorgeous gardening I have ever seen. It was incredible. Not only was the gardening well maintained, it was a work of art. Gorgeous flowers and perfectly manicured flower beds were everywhere. Even on the cliff walls. The cliffs were covered with moss and flowering vines that made it look like something you would see on a Hawaiian island.
Alcatraz is a photographers dream. Not only do you have the stark contrasts I mentioned above, but you have the antiquated buildings that weather and time have almost destroyed. You are surrounded by old decaying architecture and the ruins were majestic. There had been fires, man made destruction and time. Everywhere you turned there was something interesting and remarkable to capture.
The audio tour was very interesting and they did a great job of giving you an intimate history while at the same time guiding you through the prison. I mentioned earlier how small it was. Well in reality the prison itself was tiny. It held just over 300 people, but was never at its max capacity. Walking through the prison with my headphones on and listening to the stories was a surreal experience. Everyone else is listening to the same story and no one is talking so it is quiet and still. If you take your headphones off there is almost a feeling of reverence. It is strange because this is not a place of worship, although I am sure there were more than its fare share of prayers said here.
One thing I love about Susan is her curiosity. She likes to just wander around, seeing all of the different things and exploring. Especially the places she probably should not be going. The audio tour does not take you out to the rec yard, but Susan wanted to go out there and I am glad she did. It was so interesting. It looks like an old rec yard from many old prison movies. The high stone walls, the concrete bleachers, the guard towers and the ball field on the far end. We walked across the yard and I stood at the edge of the ball field. At that moment and as I stepped onto the grass I had the strangest thought. Who had stood in this same spot? Who had passed the years playing baseball and for a few moments took their minds off their current situation? I slowly walked around the baseball diamond and stood next to home plate. You could see just the tip of the San Francisco skyline from that point. I can’t imagine being in a place like that and being able to see that beautiful city. That alone could drive one crazy.
We finished the audio tour and turned in our headphones. The boat was leaving quickly, but we decided to stay and wander around some more. There were a few places that we hadn’t been yet, but I was constantly drawn to the baseball diamond. They call it America’s Past Time when perhaps it was Alcatraz’ Past Time for so many.