“Welcome to Alcatraz…”
A couple months ago, I finally went on a vacation by myself to a place I had never stepped foot before. A place where I didn’t know anyone, a place where family and friends were kilometers (or if you’re American, miles) away. I went to San Francisco. The city is busy and loud and always moving, something that I had missed since moving to Calgary from Greece. It’s a perfect place to feel lost in the crowd but still feel like you are a part of something bigger because no matter what corner you are in, there’s something to be seen or something to be heard or something to do.
My sole goal on this trip was to take pictures, urban photography. A hobby I picked up a couple years ago that has lead me here. To re-inspire my imagination, to make me learn to see the silent moments in a place that doesn’t seem to stop moving. The downtown core was overwhelmingly beautiful! Union Square was a perfect mini replica of Times Square – in my opinion. So it was good to experience that before I see the real thing – hopefully soon. I had forgotten what living in a big town felt like and I have to admit, the first couple of days felt like a blur as I was still trying to find my bearings. My mind would race 100 mph trying to figure out a daily pattern to follow – like where to take the cable cars, which way is north, how far till the Golden Gate Bridge, could I actually walk around the city and not get lost. As you can tell, I eventually answered those questions and started my exploring.
The Golden Gate Bridge was as spectacular as I imagined it to be. The bike ride across was fun, a little frustrating as there are tens of people walking at the same time, but I am so happy to say that is something that I’ve crossed off my bucket list. The seafood was unreal! The cable cars, the AT&T Park, the Bay Bridge, Coit Tower, Sausalito, Pier 39 are just a few of the spots that now hold dear memories for me however none of them inspired me as much as stepping into the jailhouse at Alcatraz.
The ferry ride itself seemed uneventful as a large amount of people all sat in their respective groups talking to those around them waiting for the island to come into full view. As this was happening, I observed and tried to clear my mind from any preconceived notion of what it was going to be like. That was an epic fail on my part as the moment I landed, I knew that it wasn’t whatever preconceived notion my mind had.
An island, off the coast of a beautiful city that once held some of America’s scariest criminals – just the thought itself would lead my imagination down a story line that would rival the imagination of detective movies these days.
The location itself is beautiful. The jail house is at the top of the hill on the island so to get there, you have to walk up brick pathways that give you a clear view of the sea surrounding it. People walked past me as I had my camera out, trying to capture everything I saw just in case I’d forget that feeling of being there. I hadn’t been this excited and inspired in such a long time so I was going to keep that feeling for as long as I could.
As I mentioned earlier, I have a vivid imagination so I’d get chills imagining the prisoners landing on the island, making their trek to the jail house with this view taunting them of what they were going to miss locked on the inside.
As the path winded up to the jailhouse, I got excited – I couldn’t wait to hear the audio tours, to see the various cells, walk in hallways that I’d heard about in documentaries or history books. And just like nothing, I walked into the jailhouse and followed the signs that would lead you down the exact same pathway as Al Capone, “Machine-Gun” Kelly, and many others walked before this prison became their home. First, the showers…
then you’d grab the necessary items before being shown to your cell in the jailhouse.
There was Block A, which eventually wasn’t used to hold a lot of prisoners, it was mostly used for storage…
Then, there was Block B, which was where everyone started off….
Then there was block C, which held the worst of the worst
Then eventually Block D….
Block D was where you would go if you were deemed worst than the worst…it was where isolation was a common thing, where unimaginable tortures would happen as the guards would sometimes forget the inmate as human due to the crimes they had committed.
Being stuck in a room so dark that you’d lose sense of time and orientation so much that you’d eventually cower to a corner until the doors were opened again. Sometimes that wouldn’t happen until months at a time.
A room where even the faintest amount of light would provide relief.
Going through this tour was a roller coaster of emotions as I was excited, amazed, and daunted all in a span of 1-2 hours. For some reason, being in a place where so much history is held revamped my love for capturing moments that hold memories that we might easily forget.