I was in prison for a day. Yes, me — a 3-point-something GPA student, who hides behind her glasses a great majority of the time and whose middle name is definitely not “risks.” This past Saturday, April 13, 2013, I was hauled away at approximately 11 o’clock in the morning from the NDNU campus and brought to jail. Why, you ask? All because I signed up at the Student Life and Leadership Office to tour Alcatraz.
For those who don’t know, Alcatraz Island is located in the San Francisco Bay. The island was once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals, including Al “Scarface” Capone and the “Birdman” Robert Stroud. Even to this day, Alcatraz is known as one of world’s most legendary prisons.
Bright and early, Saturday morning, I woke up indecisive. I wasn’t sure if I should take the time to get ready to see if I made it past the wait list for the Alcatraz tour, or if I should just stay in bed. The night before, each person that signed up got a text and e-mail stating that those who had been wait listed should be ready and meet in the school quad by 10:35 to see if we could take the spot of someone who could not make it. I stayed in bed until about 9:40 and finally decided, “why not? I have nothing to lose.”
Dressed in layers, I walked out to the quad. I saw a group of people at a round table and made my way there. “Did I make it?” I asked. “Yes!” Relieved, I took a seat and signed a waiver form. At that point, my day just got a whole lot more interesting. The bus that took us to San Francisco arrived at the school at around 11 a.m. It took a good 35 minutes or so to reach the starting point for the Alcatraz tour.
When I stepped off of the bus, I could feel the beautiful sun on my face. It was a wonderful feeling because if you’ve ever been in the City, you know how cold and foggy it can get there. It was going to be a great day for a tour! At around 1:00 we boarded the ferry for Alcatraz.
Because our group was in the front of the line, when we got the signal that it was okay to start boarding, we booked it to make it to the front of the boat. During our fifteen-minute boat ride there, my view of the island, as well as the city, was amazing. My eyes went from Treasure Island, to the Bay Bridge, to the beautiful city landscape, to the Golden Gate Bridge, and finally, Alcatraz Island. To top off the breathtaking view was the warm weather. I, without a doubt, would have suffered tremendously if we had gone on that tour on a foggy day.
As I stepped off the boat and onto the island, the first thing that I saw was a large rundown yellow brick building. On it is a sign that reads, “United States Penitentiary,” and above that, in bright red, is “INDIANS WELCOME” graffiti on the wall. Once everyone had gotten off of the boat, we all came together in front of that building. After a brief introduction, our group split ways and was given the instructions to make sure that were just back before 3:00 so that we could all leave together.
As we made our way into the “Main Prison,” we were greeted by a man that handed us a set of headphones attached to the device that provided us with our audio tour. Once those headphones were over my ears, I could hear the footsteps of the prisoners that were once there. I could hear the slamming of jail cells. I could hear the whistling and shouting of the officers that once worked there. Throughout the tour, I was given directions of where to look and where to turn. I was shown where the prisoners slept, read, ate and where they went for recreation. I heard stories of prisoners who tried to break out.
During the tour, a former prisoner talked about his experience in the cell. He spoke about how torturous it was to be in a jail that was a mile and a half away from San Francisco. They heard the music and sounds of people laughing and having fun. This stuck with me because that’s when I realized that these prisoners were so close, yet so far from freedom — and they were reminded everyday of it.
After the hour or so tour, we went to the gift shop. I ended up buying a few things for my dad because I thought he would have found Alcatraz to be very interesting, being a former military man and all. The trip itself was very enlightening. It was crazy that I was able to walk through the same halls that some of America’s most notorious prisoners once walked through.
At the end of the day, I was glad that I had decided to get ready that morning. It also helped that everything that happened that afternoon was free :).