Disturbing footage of 'Croatian Alcatraz' reveals what life is like on the inside
Far from being a haven of reform and repentance, the penal system has historically been linked to low and high-level corruption. Popular culture has always capitalised of documenting the trials and tribulations inmates face inside the closed-off world of prison, which we, outside of books, movies and documentaries still know very little about.
Films such as The Shawshank Redemption and Escape from Alcatraz are blockbusters for a reason; us ordinary citizens can't help but be fascinated about what life is like on the "inside" and consequently have rather romanticised views of the lives and stories of inmates.
Irrespective of our interest in such things, it appears that our knowledge begins and ends at what we see in popular culture. So whilst we may know a fair amount of infamous prisons such as Alcatraz and Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, we know very little about other prison systems across Europe and the rest of the world.
One such example is Croatia's own iteration of Alcatraz: Goli Otok. For over 40 years, Goli Otok was a penitentiary used to incarcerate political prisoners, including known supporters of the Soviet Union. Inside the prison which was first opened in 1949, inmates were subjected to forced labour, in pottery, joinery or in a stone quarry. However, what made the conditions within the prison so horrifying was that prisoners were routinely humiliated and beaten by guards and even encouraged to fight amongst themselves.
Goli Otok was finally shut down in 1988 and completely abandoned in 1989, which is how it remains today. New video footage depicts the decrepit condition that the penitentiary remains in and it's all you would expect from a building that has been left to rot for 40 years: collapsed ceilings, crumbling flooring and endless amounts of debris...
Until its closure in 1988, Goli Otok was home to 50,000 inmates, 600 of which were said to have died as a result of the terrible conditions.
Photographer, Bob Thissen could feel the penitentiary's unsettling history when perusing the site. He stated,
"The history makes the atmosphere chilling [...] When you just visit it without information you're just walking between some ruins.
"Although you are on an island you miss vegetation a bit, 'Goli Otok' means barren island, it's a rough island where there's barely any vegetation."
But of course this comes as no surprise, as he says, "prisoners were tortured there, former inmates called it a living hell, even people who were not-guilty were deported to this prison [...] The cells are small, dark and uncomfortable, the conditions were unbearable."
36-year-old Thissen has encouraged people to explore the island, as well as other penitentiaries such as Alcatraz as they teach us about an important part of our history. Speaking about the famous San Francisco prison, he added:
"I've been to Alcatraz as well, it's the same idea, a prison on a 'barren island'.
The only difference is that Alcatraz is preserved better, I believe a lot of stuff was stolen from the island.
It would have been cool to have seen it just after closure, it's a mix between a Gulag work camp and a prison."