I was recently invited to a Zoom debate on HMP Shrewsbury opening up as a tourist attraction and I’m dying to have my say.
I politely declined at the same time, kicking myself for missing an opportunity. I’m a Keyboard Warrior with a fear of ‘peopling’, or to use the correct term I’ve got chronic agoraphobia and I haven’t left the house for more than a year. I’ve declined telephone calls, Zoom meetings, podcasts, videos and interviews because of my fear of peopling and fear of the unknown. I haven’t done anything about it or tried to control it or get over it. I simply re-branded myself as a Reclusive Writer under no pressure to leave the house. I am my diagnosis. I am my own enabler.
I have such a strong opinion that my need to contribute is greater than my fear of peopling. I’m not quite ready to put on my big girl pants and start peopling today, so here’s my contribution from behind the keyboard.
Making money from people who love fancy dress Escape Room games is not a problem in a decommissioned office or warehouse but a decommissioned prison is not the place for fun and games.
What next? Dressing up as Abba for a disco in a graveyard?
If a picture paints a thousand words – memes say thousands more! I’ve copied everything on offer on the HMP Shrewsbury website, pasted their words onto another Dark Tourism attraction and made a slide show.
Auschwitz is one of many dark tourism sites of mass trauma attracting tourists from all over the world. I’d love to do the Auschwitz Tour, it’s one of the last destinations to tick off on my bucket list. I studied it at school and have always been fascinated by the whole prisoner of war camps. I’ve read books and articles online, watched films, documentaries, YouTube videos and anything else that popped up on my radar. Prisons are my biggest passion, I’ve been fascinated by what goes on behind prison walls for as long as I remember.
The best of my knowledge of Auschwitz comes from the first hand accounts of people and their loved ones who lived it. I don’t want to visit for the bragging rights to say “I’ve been there” while watching Schindlers’ List or just to post my holiday pics on social media. I want to see if for myself.
Sites of mass trauma have been tourist attractions for decades. We’ve all learned so much from Dark Tourism; including school trips to museums, the Tower of London, London Dungeons, London Bridge Experience etc. I clearly remember seeing the biggest ever dinosaur for the first time at the National History Museum. Not a clue of my History (might have been Science) Teacher’s name or where I sat on the coach, but I’ll never never forget seeing how big dinosaurs are in real life. You just can’t get that from watching Jurassic Park.
I want to visit Auschwitz to learn and understand not have a jolly! I’m confident this will never happen at Auschwitz or any other Dark Tourism attractions. Yet the people exposed to trauma in our prisons aren’t afforded the same respect and dignity.
I’d love to join a tour at HMP Shrewsbury, led by an employee who’s been to prison. I can ask David as many questions as I like about life in prison. Most of the time I don’t even have to ask, it’s all he ever talks about! But I want to know what it sounds like, what it feels like. How narrow are the stairs and landings? How small and claustrophobic are the cells? What does it sound like when the cell door slams? How does it feel? Showers? Slop out? Association? So many questions, I’ll need another list before I visit.
More than anything, I’d love, love, love for anyone who makes the decision to send someone in prison to visit. Anyone who has a say in the lives of people in prison needs to see it for themselves.
The biggest attraction is for the children standing at the gates of the school to prison pipeline. They can read the books, watch the documentaries and The Shawshank Redemption as many times as they like , but they’ll learn a great deal more from people who’ve talked the talk and walked the walk and listening to the experts who’ve walked the landings for years. Seeing it for themselves might be enough for them to turn away from the gates.
To conclude my contribution to the debate I’ve made yet another list:
We can learn a lot from Auschwitz. Dark tourism done right is priceless. Have a look at the website, especially what the loved ones say about the importance of Auschwitz being a tourist attraction.
Let’s not close the books, the gates, or our eyes to the trauma and atrocities of our prisons, that’s been going on for centuries. Our prisoners deserved to be remembered too.
I will say one thing about agoraphobia, strip away all my fears and anxiety and all that’s left is the real me – a gobby, self-opinionated, foul-mouthed old bag!
Coming to a screen near you sooner or later.
Don’t wanna be a Keyboard Warrior any more!