Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Acklington Prison

The trip to the Acklington Prison last week was not what I expected. I have been to 2 prison systems in the United States, one in Iowa and one in Missouri; however, both were completely different than this UK prison. I was first and foremost overwhelmed with the friendly nature of the prison. I’m not sure if this was due to their nice living quarters in relation to other prisoners, their enjoyment of seeing some “outsiders” or something else. I believe I would be angry if a group of students were allowed to come into my living space and examine the way I lived or if I was paraded around for young American students to see. They, however, did not seem to mind in the slightest. In fact, they were very friendly and open to answer questions. Beyond the prisoners, the rehabilitation effort seems to be miles ahead of the United States. I am, admittedly, not an expert in the United States prison system, but have never even heard of programs being so successful. My father is a police officer in the states and he certainly does not talk about the rehabilitation programs as being very successful at all. It makes me wonder what the differences are and I would be so bold as to guess it’s the treatment of the prisoners. When I toured the prison in southern Missouri, the guards refused to even interact with the prisons whereas here, the guards were joking with them and being openly friendly. If you are constantly treated like an animal or a criminal, it’s no surprise when you are released you are tagged as a repeat offender and end up behind bars once again.

To be fair, the tour through the prison seemed completely staged (we were given coffee/tea and cookies). And I felt quite uncomfortable being forced to tour a facility where I believed us to be judging a group of people we knew nothing about.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

So Far

I know I've been bad about weekly updates or what not but it's crazy busy here. My classes take up most of my time- the rest is spent making travel plans and penching pennies. I highly wish the exchange rate were in my favor- the best advice I could give about being abroad is bring more than you'd need for a semester in the US. The best the exchange rate has been since I've been here is 1.56.

Anyway, I spent a week in London. It was a fabulous time. However, I don't think I'm as in love with London was I originallyt hought after my weekend getaway there. I haven't quite figured out why. So, we did tons of things while there- BUT - my favorite by far was seeing Wicked. It was more amazing than I could have possibly imagined. The staging and music was absolutely breathtaking. Maybe everything just appears to have more meaning on a beautiful stage in London, who knows. I really wish Michael and my mom could have been there. They would have also loved it. I was also able to tour Shakespear's Globe Theater. While here, I'm constantly astonished how connected I feel with "history" or my ability to imagine being part of prior centuries. This may sound stupid and childish but I find it fascinating and it makes my time here 10 times more enjoyable.

Being in the Parliament building was also far more interesting than I anticipated. Compared to our government buildings, the UK blows us out of the water. The sculptures, architecture, and paintings inside were phenomenal. The House of Commons and House of Lords were both structured in such a different and intersting way (even though I've been learning about it in my Contemporary Britain Class, being there was different). Maybe it's my nerdy affection for politics talking, but any political atmosphere interests me.

We also took a tour of an old Royal Palace. It was huge and beautifully decorated with gardens and landscaping all around the premises. This was also the most blatant example of class divison within Britain I have yet seen. Of course there are obvious class disparaties (obviously, I live in the castle with the Duke of Northumberland), this was outrageous. Just thinking about the amount of money fueled into building and maintaining the palace then and now, it almost sickening. Class divisions are frustrating.

All in all, other than the 7 hour bus ride, it was a great time.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


The second half of my one week break was spent in Berlin. I really wish I'd been able to spend more time in not only Berlin, but Germany as a whole. Although some members of my party saw the language difference as a large barrier, I quite enjoyed being in a surrounding where English wasn't the first language. It's interesting to be in a country where being an American doesn't give you a free pass in society. We arrived at Schonefeld airport and began having immediate problems figuring out the transportation system. I did admittedly take German in high school which was only mildly helpful. After a small amount of struggling, we arrived at our hostel, "The Generator." This was a monster of a hostel, just huge. We threw out bags down and headed out to explore- this led us straight to food. I chose a traditional German hot dog- yum.

I opted for a short nap after we walked around. Almost immediately I noticed the massive amounts of graffiti that have overtaken parts of Berlin. Some may see it as trashy but it was quite impressive and gave a "face" to Berlin right away. We had a great dinner in the center of Berlin and called it a night somewhat early. The next day we woke up earlier to catch the "Fat Tire Bike Tour of Berlin." This was well worth it. The 4 hour bike tour covered the most famous sites in Berlin including: Check Point Charlie, The Berlin Wall, The Holocaust Museum, the site of Hitler's underground Bunker, and more. It was refreshing being outside and being shown the historically significant portions of the massive city. More dinner and exploring the night life ensued later on.

Our last full day in Berlin was spent at a concentration camp (Sachsenhausen) just out of the city. This was difficult and not exactly what I had expected. The site was originally used by SS officers for a camp and after the Soviets took over Berlin, it was converted into a Soviet "special camp." It was difficult seeing all the structures still in place and the audio guide provided testimonials from survivors of both camps. People were shot on site if they attempted to escape and outrageous medical experients were performed in the infirmary. 2 mass graves were also present on the site. The most difficult was going into the execution trenches where a large concrete block stood, filled with ashes. That's all I'd like to write about that.

Overall, I had an amazing time in Germany. I'd like to go back.