One thing I dislike about many attractions is that you are forced to join a tour during which you feel crowded, rushed and sometimes annoyed because you're stuck with "that guy." Imagine how excited I was when we found out that we could tour at our own pace using an audio tour and map! There are tours, of course, which I hear are very good. But I loved exploring at our own pace.
After paying and being given your headset, you are guided out a door within the walls of the prison. From there, you are free to follow the map as you please, or simply wander around. Navigating the audio tour (narrated by Steve Buscemi--awesome!) is as simple as entering the numbers you see on the signs. Very informative.
I loved how you got everything from the philosophy of prisons over time to the personal stories of prisoners and guards. They don't hide the ugly parts and interestingly, you get to hear some good parts, too. Of course, they also touch on the supernatural as that's what draws many people here.
The prison is kept in a state of what they call "stabilized decay," meaning that they are maintaining the current condition without letting it deteriorate further. There are portions of the prison which are very much intact and others that are falling apart. I enjoyed the art installations throughout the prison--,many were very good at telling stories of prison life.
Since the experience of being IN a prison is (hopefully) unique to most visitors, it comes across as novel and even fun. But when you start learning more about prison life, it's very sobering and incredibly interesting. I feel like I learned a lot in my few hours touring the place.
I felt the cost of admission was very fair considering you can spend unlimited time wandering around and the fact that it is such a unique experience. Parking on the street was simple and easy. The gift shop had some cool stuff too!
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