Sunday, July 30, 2017

Saturday in Prison...

Saturday July 29, 2017

Today Andrew and I met a couple friends at the Mansfield Reformatory (famous for its starring role in the 1994 film, “The Shawshank Redemption.” My friends had already been there, but neither Andrew, nor I had ever been there.

We were blessed with a lovely day with all sunshine and big, puffy clouds and not too hot with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees. Being a weekend it was quite busy, so even though we wanted to get booked onto a 1pm tour, we ended up having to wait until 2pm and our only option for tours was the History Meets Hollywood Tour:

History Meets Hollywood Tour 
Explore the past through this unique tour, which takes guests on a journey
through both the historical timeline of the prison and the equally iconic, fictional
story of inmate Andy Dufresne from the 1994 film, Shawshank Redemption. This
tour also includes information on the warden’s living quarters and several other
films and music videos filmed onsite.

If we ever visit again we hope to go on the Inmate Tour.

Inmate Tour 
Real-Life behind bars may be difficult to understand unless you have lived it.
Such is the case for tour guide, Michael Humphrey, who spent 14 months here in
the late 1960’s. Walk through the prison as Michael leads you through a normal
day for an inmate and hear stories that stick with Michael all these years later.

Since that wasn’t an option yesterday, I settled for buying from the gift shop, Inmates Speak Out: Stories, thoughts, ideas & plots conceived by those who lived, worked and died behind the walls.

Our young tour guide, Emily Smith, was an excellent guide who you can tell absolutely loves her job and is good at it. Due to having such a large group (though this may be normal anyway), we also had a “pusher” (wearing a “trustee” hat) whose job it was to make sure we all stayed with our tour and didn’t try to lock each other inside any of the cells. Of course this has happened before, which is the reason for their strict rules and procedures. In the event of an accidental lock-in, a locksmith from Columbus is called and the guilty party pays “bail” to get out (not really, bail, but it sounds funnier).

The other strict rule is to not take any photos out of the rear windows of the (minimum) security prison behind the reformatory. It’s a federal offense and not something to easily talk your way out of. Good to know. Note to self, no photos out the back window.

There’s one room on the inside of the building which has no windows since it is literally in the middle of the building. We were lead inside and told it was haunted, and then our guide asked for a volunteer to sit on the chair in the middle of the room. My friend’s husband, Jay, volunteered for this responsibility, after which the lights were turned out to see if anything happened. Nothing did, but Jay swears he sensed some paranormal activity of some sort or the other. We’re all pretty skeptical, though I have no doubt some people have experienced genuine paranormal activity, but those things seem to typically happen after dark, rather than in broad daylight, so I didn’t really expect anything other worldly to happen.

Just to provide a little timeline, the prison closed down in 1990 and the film crew for “Shawshank Redemption” arrived shortly thereafter to film their movie, which was released in 1994. Since then the building has fallen into disrepair with more peeling paint than a Sherwin Williams warehouse.
I was almost surprised so many people brought their children since lead paint is more harmful to young ones than we adults. As tourism increases and donations roll in, the building is slowly being restored a room at a time and is looking pretty good, though there’s still a long way to go. Sadly all the outbuildings you see in the film (like the laundry, wood shop, etc.) are long gone. It’s only the Castle structure that remains standing (which is still pretty magnificent looking from the outside).

Probably the biggest difference on the inside of the prison in contrast to what you see in “Shawshank,” is the fact that there’s only cells on one side of each block. There aren’t any wings where they face each other. I believe this is probably true of most prisons and I think that’s the case at Alcatraz too. They didn’t want prisoners to have face-to-face contact being across the way from each other, and I can totally understand the logic behind that decision.

My only complaint is not feeling like we had enough time to really explore this massive prison. A self-guided tour was included with the price of admission, but we didn’t really have time for much wandering around afterwards since the prison is supposed to close at 4pm and we had to head anyway. We probably could have walked around in the hour we had to kill before our tour started, but Andrew figured it would probably be a bit monotonous if we did that, and we agreed (but had we known how big the building was and how long our tour lasted we probably should have at least looked in a few rooms). All four of us agreed it might be worth a visit again someday (maybe at Halloween for the ghost tour?), and certainly the city of Mansfield in all its yesteryear glory.

Bonus story: Andrew and I were killing time waiting for our friends to arrive (they had a bit longer of a drive coming down from Northeast Ohio) and happened to stop in at the Squirrel’s Den in downtown Mansfield. I saw some postcards in the window, so I suggested we pop in and pick up a couple since they were likely to be cheaper than at the reformatory (they were, by half).

While we were paying for our purchases (including a bag of chocolate popcorn that Andrew had chosen) I happened to notice a yellowed article on the wall behind the cash register. The article ( was all about President Obama’s visit in 2012 while he was campaigning for re-election. The owner, LaDonna Secrist, who was interviewed for the article and the one checking out our items, told us all about it. I felt a little bad that we couldn’t stay to talk longer. Ms. Secrist was as kind as could be, like everyone (one of the employees at Doc’s Deli) we met in Mansfield who asked us if we were visiting for the day. Mansfield may have seen better days, but the people who still live there have a lot of spunk and spirit. If we ever get back for a return visit I hope to stop in for another tasty sandwich from Doc’s Deli (the cure for the common sandwich) and then some chocolate for dessert at the Squirrel’s Den (and further investigate the story behind the name as illustrated by some photos on the wall behind the counter).

All in all a great day and a nice visit with our friends. Have a great week everyone!

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