Visiting The Ohio State Reformatory, filming site of The Shawshank Redemption

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

One of my favorite quotes in film history occurs between Tim Robbins character Andy Dufresne and Morgan Freeman’s Character Red in the movie Shawshank Redemption. Andy gives Red the line after sharing his dream to go to Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Andy has a plan in progress to break out of jail and make live out the rest of his life peacefully. Red responds by calling Andy’s dream a “pipedream,” and he shouldn’t think of such things. That’s when an exhausted Andy drops the line.



One thing that makes me feel “alive” is traveling. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a foreign country or the next county over, I find traveling exhilarating. I love being somewhere new. And if I can bring my kids along, that brings on an extra level of living.

While I was staying in a treehouse with two of my kids at The Mohicans near Mohican State Park and being only 40 minutes away from the Ohio State Reformatory where Shawshank was filmed, I had to visit. I tried my best to give my kids (ages 7 and 4) a brief and edited rundown of the plot of Shawshank, but it didn’t really matter, because they were excited to visit an old prison.

The Ohio State Reformatory is in Mansfield, Ohio and opened in September 1896. It closed in 1990 after a prisoner’s class-action lawsuit citing overcrowding and inhuman conditions. Since then, it’s been used in many movies and TV shows and for tours.

Upon entering the prison, my love of history, travel, and film maxed out my excitement level. I kept pointing out locations in the prison detailing what happened in the movie at that location. There weren’t many visitors and we had the run of the place. It was rather eerie at times and my youngest became a little scared in the cellblock.

In reading about the prison before my visit, I was so focused on events in Shawshank Redemption, that I overlooked the stories of the people who lived inside the concrete walls. While touring, I heard and read stories of fights, deaths, riots, and of the families who lived within feet of prisoners. After a while, the darkness of the place set in and my 8-year-old and I discussed what would be the appropriate sentence of an inmate’s crime and at what level of treatment convicted criminals should receive.

Among our discussions and walking down Shawshank Memory Lane, we stood in the middle of the massive chapel. We tried to look past the paint-chipped walls, rusted iron bars, cracked concrete, and mountains of dust to what it might have looked like to the residents who worshipped there. We talked about maybe this was a place where prisoners found forgiveness, freedom, and hope. And then my second favorite quote from Shawshank was uddered, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Offering Capt. Hadley IRS tips


  1. Wow, Jason! I’m going to share your post with a family friend who lives in Mansfield. I don’t remember the exact year, but Walter visited an inmate there while it was still a prison. He came home with some hair-raising stories the prisoner told him–but that is true of any prison. I didn’t realize you can still tour it.

    1. Hi Jason. I’m the Mansfield-er and family friend of old. Glad you visited. You really are one good dad. And cute kids!

      I’ve used the film many times with college students for discussion. I cal it “The Gospel according to Red”. It’s his story and biblical parallels are amazing. This all comes to light when compared to the short story by Stephen King. Dark and different. The director, a Catholic I believe, made it his own. My best story:

      Before it opened to the public my wife knew a former prison guard. He took us on a tour with permission. When I came upon the image of Christ on the wall from which the film projects in the key scene “Can you get me Rita Hayworth?” I asked what that room was used for…”a chapel?” He said “Oh no…the director had that painted there.” Aha moment. He meant something by that.

      Good stuff. Thanks for sharing.

      Fred Linger

  2. Not sure if you remember, but it was filmed in 1993. I remember hearing about the filming while a student at MVNU. They were looking for extras for the film. I so much wanted to do it, I believe it was filmed over the summer if I remember correctly. I ended up not doing it because of timing or because the money wasn’t as much as I could make with a full-time job during summer break and had to make more money to pay for the previous semester or college so they’d let me return. Sure regret not doing it now. What a fantastic movie. Next time I’m in the area I’m going to have to make a point to go visit and explore like you and your kids.

    1. Too bad you couldn’t have been in the movie. I’m sure you would remember that more than whatever it was your were doing that summer. The prison is incredible.

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