I have a confession to make. I’m a pop culture nerd. In fact, I love movies and TV so much that I write about them for a living when I’m not writing content for Prison Insight.
For this week’s blog post, I thought it would be fun to mix together my love of movies with my prison experience and talk about the greatest prison movie ever made – The Shawshank Redemption.
It’s hard to believe now, but when The Shawshank Redemption hit theaters in 1994, it was a box office flop. It wasn’t until it made its way to home video and cable that people discovered just how amazing this film really was. Now, it’s at the top of IMDB’s list of the greatest movies of all time.
The Shawshank Redemption was based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. It starred Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, and it was the first film to feature Freeman’s legendary voiceover skills.
If for some crazy reason you haven’t seen it, let me give you a refresher. The Shawshank Redemption follows a banker named Andy Dufresne (Robbins) in the year 1947 in Portland, Maine.
Andy is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover and is sentenced to life in prison, despite his claims of innocence. While in prison, Andy becomes friends with Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Freeman), a long term prison inmate and contraband smuggler.
This movie was the first prison flick to show inmates as human beings and bring humanity to the prison experience. That’s why I think it resonates like it does. But, that’s not what we’re going to talk about today. Instead, today’s question is: Where is the prison from The Shawshank Redemption?
In this blog post I will cover the following topics:
The movie begins in 1940s Maine when Andy is sentenced to life at the fictional Shawshank State Penitentiary. Even though the story took place in New England, the movie was actually shot in Mansfield, Ohio.
Filming for The Shawshank Redemption began in June 1993. Over the next three months, the abandoned Ohio State Reformatory (AKA Mansfield Reformatory) was the location that represented Shawshank State Penitentiary.
Location scouts spent five months looking for the right location, and they chose the Ohio State Reformatory because of its Gothic inspired stone and brick architecture. The prison was built between 1886 and 1910, and was operational until 1990.
They retired the facility due to overcrowding and inhumane living conditions. The prison was actually scheduled for demolition when the movie was made. Today, much of the prison yard is gone because of the adjacent Richland Correctional Institution.
But, the famous Administration Building from the Ohio State Reformatory is still there, and they offer daytime tours.
The Shawshank Redemption made the Ohio State Reformatory a popular tourist destination, as well as the town of Mansfield itself. Because of this, there is now a self-guided tour called the Shawshank Trail that you can take to see all of the movie’s filming locations.
There is a brochure available at ShawshankTrail.com that you can download as a trail map, and it begins at the historic Ohio State Reformatory. There is an admission fee for the prison, but the rest of the sites are mostly free.
At the prison location, there is a Shawshank museum where you can see props, set pieces, costumes, and other treasures involved in the making of the Oscar-nominated film. You can also purchase screen-matched prop replicas from the Museum Store.
Before construction on the prison began in 1886, the site of the Ohio State Reformatory was a field used as a training camp for Civil War soldiers. The original architect for the prison was Levi T. Scofield, who used three different styles in his design – Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque, and Queen Anne.
During its century of operations, thousands of inmates were transferred in and out of the facility. I couldn’t find any specific names of notorious inmates who did time there. But, there is a long list of film and TV productions who have used the prison as a filming location. They include Air Force One and Tango & Cash.
Have you ever toured the Ohio State Penitentiary? If so, let us know about your experience in the comments below.
Sources: ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ Filming Locations: A Guide https://thecinemaholic.com/the-shawshank-redemption-filming-locations/ The Ohio State Reformatory https://www.mrps.org/
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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