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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hotel Alcatraz

I am THIS close to being behind bars.

Heading to London only next week, i just found out that from 13-17 March, members of the public can check-in for free at Hotel Alcatraz. That would have saved me 100 pounds, even if living conditions were dire like being in extremely cramped (5’ by 9’) cells (me not claustophobic), containing just a basic bed, a tatty-looking mattress (at least i know no one had sex prior on this), two tiny shelves and a prison-style sink, toilet.
Inmates will be required to follow a regimented routine which will include being photographed on arrival, getting kitted out in prison-style uniforms, engaging in reforming activities such as model-making and tailoring and eating an evening meal from metal trays and cups (did i mention i love airplane food?).

It was part of a publicity stunt for a new US thriller drama 'Alcatraz' on UKTV's channel Watch. A pop-up hotel albeit like our Merlion Hotel except for the Merlion, you had to pay sgd $200!

So, anyway i didn't manage to snag that exclusive prison spot but managed to (they've a pretty neat staff blog btw, i'm bookmarking it).

I've copied their account for your reading convenience but otherwise can find the hyperlink too.
Prisoner’s Diary

19:00 “Welcome to your home”

Smile - you're at Alcatraz!

My first experience of ‘Hotel Alcatraz’ is an eardrum-shattering whistle blown too close for comfort.

It comes from one of two imposing prison guards who meet me, smartly dressed in their crisp grey suits matching the stark colour of the Alcatraz reception walls.

I’m marched over to the admissions officer sat behind an old desk complete with a 1950s miliatry-style typewriter and anglepoise lamp. Behind him hang mug shots of inmates, all looking suitably suspiscious.

Peering from under his oversized hat the officer turns on his best American accent to give me a brief history of Alcatraz, its infamous residents, and what to expect during my ‘stay’.

They don’t know what ‘crime’ I’m here for and they won’t remember my name.

For the next 12 hours, I’m ‘Prisoner No. 2’ and ‘us guards are in charge’. Yikes.

19:15 Prison Chic

So I’ve just checked in, had my mugshots taken, and changed into to the prison-issue Alcatraz uniform I’ll be spending the night in; grey sweat pants, white t-shirt and laundry denim shirt.

All my belongings have been taken from me and I’m cleared of hiding any contraband. Though for this experience, I’m spared a full-body check. Phew.

“Now you’re our property” I’m chillingly told.
No turning back - being led to my cell in my prison-issue uniform
19:30 Behind bars

I’m escorted to my cell by a burly guard and see for the first time my ‘room’ for the night… talk about authentic!

A stained mattress butts up to one of the three peeling walls, two rickety shelves stick out from the side and a filthy sink and toilet stand against the back wall. An exact replica of an Alcatraz cell, it’s easy to be impressed when you know you’re only here for fun!
An exact replica of an Alcatraz cell from the 1960s. Lovely.

I spin around just in time to see the guard slam the door of my cell shut and turn the key with added drama, giving me a wink through the steel bars. I’m taking this as friendly and reassuring… but not too friendly I hope!
20:00 “In Alcatraz, we require you to work”

Working was an important part of life at Alcatraz. So over the next hour I’ll be performing two tasks. Unfortunately one isn’t to give my cell a much-needed lick of paint.

It’s knitting and construction. Needles *ahem* needless to say, my construction skills (using Lego blocks) are far superior to my knitting. No really – check it out…
Ta da! Time well spent making a lego LR - for of course!

21:00 Gourmet Gruel

I won’t lie; the quality of my evening meal was probably my main concern about this whole Alcatraz experience. Cramped and ‘dirty’ cell? No problem. Not properly fed? Now I’m panicking!

So learning from the guard that decent food was always served in Alcatraz to keep inmates from rioting makes me feel more at ease.

And I’m not disappointed. From a small menu I choose BBQ ribs followed by a Peri Peri chicken burger with chips, all accompanied by a coke.
It works. I decide not to riot.

21:30 Showtime

“Buttered or salted Prisoner No.2?” the guard barks following an almighty blast of his whistle.

What is this? Prison slang for something I’d rather not know about?

“Can you not speak Prisoner No.2? Buttered or salted popcorn?”

Ah, popcorn. I get it now. Phew! A couple of guards roll a huge flatscreen TV out in front of my cell, ready for the inmates to enjoy an exclusive showing of new US TV drama, Alcatraz – for which this whole stunt has been created.

I perch on the end of my bed and settle down for a good hour to watch the first episode, albeit through the bars of my cell door. You can’t get a more authentic viewing experience than this!
Waiting for the Alcatraz show to start...

22:30 Reward Time

So after thoroughly enjoying the first gripping episode of Alcatraz it’s time for more ‘rewards’. From now until ‘Lights Out’ I’m allowed access to my personal belongings – mobile phone, book, MP3 player etc.

I send texts to my family to let them know I’m okay, and I’ll be seeing them again soon. I take a few pictures around my cell, read my book for a while and rely on Twitter to tell me that Spurs beat Stevenage 3-1 in the FA Cup replay. I’d do two nights in this cell if it meant reversing that score line, that’s for sure!

Some bedtime reading - including the original Alcatraz regulations form the 1960s

23:30 Lights out

That whistle blows again to announce that lights out will be in 10 minutes. I grab my toothbrush and toothpaste and am escorted to the bathroom (the ‘facilities’ in my cell are, thankfully, just for show).

Clean sheets have been laid out for me to make up my bed with. It’s surprisingly springy.

With one more blast of the whistle for the night (please be the last!) the lights go down and I’m left lying here. Alone. In silence. Nothing but my own thoughts for company. And the voices in my head. (Oh, and the sound of a guard bashing on his typewriter at random intervals!)

They say the worst thing about being in prison is the night time. Guess I’m about to find out…
Ready for 'Lights Out'

23:42 Is it morning yet?

…well, is it?

01:30 Murmurs and rumblings

Ok. I’m sure I can hear a whimper coming from another cell. What’s going on?

Wait… It’s getting closer. In my own cell even?

Oh hold on… it’s me. It’s just my stomach rumbling.

“Guard, can I get a hob nob in here please… sir?” I shout to the guard sat reassuringly outside my cell for the night.

“Silence Prisoner No. 2.”

That’ll be a no then.

03:00 Sssh

I’ve escaped the cell for a toilet break…

You didn’t need to know that, did you?

04:30 A cracking night’s sleep?

There are 147 cracks in the paint on the wall beside my bed. That is all.

07:00 “Lights Up”

Alarm clock. All is forgiven. The monotonous beep with which you bring me around each working day is like a sweet Katherine Jenkins Aria compared to the loud whistle and bright flash light that has just been used to wake me up. Yes, it’s ‘Lights Up’ and the guards are taking great pleasure in telling me so.

But before long I’m enjoying a hot mug of coffee and a healthy dollop of porridge ahead of my release. I can almost taste my freedom.
Larkin' around. I catch the guards out of character
08:00 Escape from Alcatraz

With one final blow of the whistle (which seems a whole lot sweeter now!) the guard congratulates me on serving my time at Hotel Alcatraz and goes about setting me free. I’m escorted to collect my clothes and head to the bathroom to change. When I return my personal belongings are waiting for me, along with smiles from the guards who just might be ready to drop their act.

After a brief ‘out-of-character’ chat with the team who’ve laid on this great Alcatraz experience, I skip out into the London spring to celebrate my freedom, ready to tell anyone who wants to hear about my the night in the world’s toughest ‘prison’.


Martin, the writer of the above account is very candid, i like his writing style. Should have known about earlier, so i would have booked my hotel rooms there. It's a great travel blog too, enough to inspire my own writing. If you haven't got it in pictures, you haven't done it!

The series after the end of my favourite dramas Prison Break and Lost, i'm definitely looking out for Alcatraz.

Meanwhile, the Harry Potter studio tour opened in London last week (31 March), i'll be the first Singaporean blogger to check it out! That is, if a Singaporean student studying in London hadn't yet. Or a Singaporean working in London hadn't yet. Or, a Singaporean holidaying a day before me hadn't yet.

The Harry Potter Exhibition will be touring to Marina Bay Sands (Singapore) in June at a fraction of the price though. Yes, yes...I'm The Tourist.

P.S My behind-bars photos are from ER restaurant in Tokyo.

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