5 Prisons for Law-Abiding Citizens

In this lull between fun summer TV like “True Blood” and the fall premieres of network television shows, many people have been binge watching the Netflix comedy, “Orange is the New Black.” Set at a women’s prison in Rockland County, New York, the series has generated new interest in jail. (From the outside, at least.) Here are five notable prison museums around the world with flexible visiting hours for an easy escape.

Alcatraz, San Francisco, CA
Built as an “inescapable” prison on an island off San Francisco, Alcatraz has had quite a few famous inmates, including Al Capone. The federal prison was closed in 1963 and has been a museum for several decades. In addition to the prison museum, it also has the country’s oldest lighthouse and a permanent exhibition on the historic Native American occupation. Tickets are a steep $30 and up per adult, but they include transportation, since you can’t make it off “the Rock” alive.Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA
Another stop on Al Capone’s “jail tour,” this Center City Philadelphia jail has been the set for several films including “Twelve Monkeys” and the Transformers sequel, and many TV shows about ghosts and jails. The self-guided audio tour (narrated by Steve Buscemi!) details the history of the prison, active from 1829 to 1969. Regular tickets are $14, and look out for special events; the Halloween Haunted House is especially popular.

Gestapo Headquarters and Pawiak Prison, Warsaw, Poland
Telling another part of the Holocaust, these two related historical sites in Warsaw show what it was like to be interrogated and imprisoned in the gruesome Nazi occupation. Part of the Polish city’s excellent collection of museums, they are free to visit and well-maintained, though very somber.

Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa
The isolation of the small island near Cape Town made it a fitting site for a leper colony, a military training station and a place for political prisoners. Nelson Mandela was the most famous of former inmates for 18 years; he was one of dozens imprisoned during apartheid. Tickets are about $22, including ferry transportation to and from the mainland, a bus tour of the island and “interaction” with a former prisoner. President Obama visited the island and museum this summer, and was “deeply humbled” by the experience.

Tuel Sleng, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The secret prison of Pol Pot, dictator of Cambodia in the 1970s and leader of the Khmer Rouge, Tuel Sleng is now a museum cataloging the genocide perpetrated there. The museum contains the 6,000 detailed photographs and records of inmates left by prison staff, though as many as 30,000 were said to have been detained, tortured and murdered there. The museum is preserved as it was found in 1979, and is an important site, along with the “Killing Fields,” documenting and memorializing the victims of this dark regime.

Would you visit a prison?

Lebowski Fest really “Ties the Fans Together”

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

No matter what part of the country you live in, chances are you can roll your way to one of many cities that hosting an annual Lebowski Fest this year. The festival(s) celebrate the Coen Brother’s 1998 film “The Big Lebowski” starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, and Steve Buscemi. Organizers Scott Shuffitt and Will Russell started the first Lebowski fest in 2002 in Louisville, Kentucky. It was such a success that there are now multiple festivals a year in select cities across the country. (If you’ve never seen the movie, I recommend reading this quick synopsis to familiarize yourself with how the below activities cleverly tie the film and festival together.)

I became a huge fan of the film in college, so I made the two hour trip from Nashville to the Louisville festival last July. I followed the advice on the Lebowski Fest site and rented a discounted room at the suggested hotel, which is within walking distance to the bowling alley where all festivities take place. Make sure you book your reservation early as the rooms tend to go quickly.

The first night’s events include a screening of the film, followed by live music or a special appearance from a comedian or actor. The organizers try to bring in a well-known act and you will be pleasantly surprised with whom they are able to round up.

As fun as the official events can be, don’t forget to check out the pre-fest activities are also good fun. Upon arriving to the field outside the bowling alley, you can try your hand at the “ringer toss” where participants throw a suitcase full of the dirty white laundry over the Dude’s car to hit a target on the other side. This is your chance to meet other die-hard Lebowski fans, strike up conversations, and make new friends over a few oat sodas. Some festival-goers even dress the part, donning costumes and personifying their favorite characters from the film. These costumes serve a greater purpose later on in the festival, so be sure to bring a camera.The second night is when the real magic happens. If you’ve purchased your festival tickets in advance and arrive to the bowling alley early you can reserve a lane for unlimited bowling. Lanes are given up on a first come, first served basis.

Even if you don’t get a chance to bowl, this night serves as a social hour and you might even run into certain actors from the film who played minor roles. For a Lebowski fan, this is still an exciting run-in. Sharing a White Russian (or a caucasian) with Malibu’s Chief of Police is something to write home about!

The highlight of the festival is the costume contest which takes place in the bowling alley. Participants are judged by the audience based on originality and quality of costume. There are so many “Dudes” they have to award a prize just for the best Jeffrey Lebowski look-a-like. If you feel confident and can whip out your best Walter Sobchak aviator shades, I say enter that contest and go for it.

Overall, the best part of any Lebowski Fest is meeting new people and interacting with fans from all corners of the world. Sure, you might wake up the next morning with a headache from all the White Russians, but sharing a few laughs, and a few burgers with like-minded people really ties the whole thing together.

In 2010, Little Lebowski Urban Achievers can spend two days in Orlando (May 21-22), Louisville (July 16-17), Chicago (September 17-18), Seattle (October 15-16) or one in New York (November 4). Los Angeles already celebrated this year on April 2-3. Ticket prices can vary from city to city so check The Lebowski Fest website for updated pricing info.