My Visit to Shawshank Prison (Ohio State Reformatory Where Shawshank Redemption Was Filmed)

Watching the legendary film Shawshank Redemption was one of my great joys as a movie fan. Many respected film sites rank Shawshank as the greatest film of all time -- or at least in the top five. If you haven't seen it, I should warn you that it is rated R for its intense depiction of prison violence and profanity. It's not a family-friendly movie, to be sure, but if you can push through the darkness of prison life that it depicts, its ending is one of the most satisfying, joyful movie endings of all time. It is the ultimate redemption movie (other than, say, The Passion of the Christ).

I recently fulfilled a dream: I walked part of the "Shawshank Trail" in Mansfield, Ohio where they filmed important scenes in the movie, and I toured the prison -- the Ohio State Reformatory -- where probably 80-90% of the movie was filmed.

The prison was amazing, but for me personally the highlight was using my GPS and the Trail map from the Shawshank Trail Official Site to find rural locations that were used to film some of my favorite scenes from the movie. I'm happy to report that, even after 20 years, these rural locations look the same as when the movie was filmed in the '90s.

Here are my pictures from the experience, along with still shots from the film to compare side-by-side with my pics:

 A still shot from the movie with Andy's tree where Red travels.

A still shot from the movie with Andy's tree where Red travels.

 Still shot from movie.

Still shot from movie.

The shot above looks like it was filmed from the opposite direction/location -- in the trees -- from where I took the pics below. The tree is on private land, so you can only see it from a road across from where the tree stands. Only half the tree stands now because it was struck by lightning a few years ago and half of it fell. The rock wall is either not there anymore or is on the other side on the private land where you can't go. I took the pics below on Pleasant Valley Road that runs along the perimeter of Malabar Farm, right outside the entrance to Malabar Farm (which is open to the public and is stunningly beautiful). (Malabar Farm is where Humphrey Bogart got married to Lauren Bacall, by the way, and the opening scene from Shawshank, where Andy sits in his car outside a cabin, was shot on Malabar Farm, at a cabin there.)

The pic above is a screen shot from the Shawshank Trail Official Site, from their brochure for the Trail. The scene above is when Red is on the bus traveling to where Andy has instructed him (to Andy's tree). It's amazing that the location, after 20 years, looks exactly the same. That's what I love about the rural farmlands in Ohio: things stay the same for decades.

The pic above is a screen shot from the Shawshank Trail Official Site, from their brochure for the Trail. I always loved the outdoor beauty and the atmosphere that the location above created in the film. It was surreal to stand on that same road where Red walked. I found it by setting my GPS to the corner of Snyder Rd and Hagerman Rd in Bellville, OH. The link above to the Trail Brochure has all the location info. My pics below show how little has changed: the trees on the top of the hill to the left are trimmed back and don't cover the road as much and the fields aren't in harvest (no rows of crops). Everything else is the same after 20 years:

The gallery of pics below cover the following scenes from the movie:

  • the exterior shots of the prison
  • the warden's offices and rooms where Andy helped him with his finances and taxes
  • the parole room where Red gave his parole speeches (the room with the table, three windows, and single chair)
  • Brooks's room where he carved "Brooks was here" (this room is actually one of the administrative rooms inside the Ohio State Reformatory, down the hall from the warden's rooms). They leave a chair in there now for anyone who wants to pretend to be Brooks or Red carving their name in the wood.
  • the receiving room of the prison where the "new fish" line up and receive their "orientation" talk from the warden (the yellow line is where the actors stood)
  • the cell blocks
  • the prison's chapel (which wasn't in the film)
  • the prison cafeteria
  • Andy's solitary confinement cell
  • the tunnel Andy dug in his cell
  • the sewer pipeline that Andy crawled down

Here's another screenshot from the Shawshank Trail Official Site brochure:

Below is a famous prop from the film, some signed memorabilia kept at the prison, and an old picture of how the prison actually looked like during the time period portrayed in the film:

On the day we toured the prison, they were holding a Civil War reenactment outside the prison! The prison is one of the creepiest places in the world, and while we toured it, Civil War reenactment actors were walking around touring the prison in their period clothing, which somehow made it even creepier! See pics below: