Looking for Redemption at Shawshank: My Own Amazing Race Without the Need for a Permanent Reminder

Sometimes you come across things by chance. The initial plan on the way from Cleveland to Columbus was to hit one of the many Amish buffets that populate mid-Ohio. However, I still super full from the previous day. Curious about the weather, I flipped on the news to look at the map and get the forecast and saw that the town of Mansfield, Ohio was about halfway to Columbus travelling down highway 71. After a quick internet search, I discovered two things; Mansfield, in particular the Ohio State Reformatory, was the venue for the 2019 Inkcarceration tour featuring the likes of Godsmack, Five Finger Death Punch and a whole lot of tattoo artists which, as a guy who’s skin is a blank canvas, wasn’t particularly appealing. Second, the same prison was the hub for the filming of the Shawshank Redemption which hit theaters 25 years ago. Based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, this movie, which follows the wrongful conviction Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) has achieved cult-like status. That year, it couldn’t compete with Forest Gump and the Lion King but surprisingly, it didn’t even crack the top 50 in box office earnings that year and was even beaten by the likes of Beverly Hills Cop III, Richie Rich and the Schwarzenegger classic Junior. Nonetheless it was nominated for 7 Oscars including best picture (at a a time when there weren’t 17 candidates), best adapted screenplay and best actor for Morgan Freeman. It failed to win any. Also, it seemed a fitting tour stop given the fact I stomped around Bangor, Maine last year posing near numerous landmarks referenced in Stephen King’s “It” so why stop now.

One can tour the reformatory for $15 and we got lucky because it was the first day it was open following the concert (they were still disassembling the stages and cleaning up the grounds when we arrived). The tour is a peek into the history of the Ohio penal system with a number of Shawshank references scattered throughout. One gets a bit gobsmacked (or is it Godsmacked) viewing things like the electric chair, shanks (made from spoons, pencils and other routine prisonware) and the eerie symmetry of the numerous cells stacked on top of each other. In regards to the movie, you can also the warden’s office, the infamous “Brooks was here” room, the solitary confinement area where Andy spend a lot of fine as well as the tunnel that was used for his escape. Cardboard cutouts of various characters including the ominous Captain Hadley are strategically placed throughout the grounds to recreate many of the movie scenes.

Other movie scenes scattered throughout the town of Mansfield itself which are identified by Shawshank Trail signs which made me feel like I was competing on the amazing race. These included the building who’s front facade was the movie’s halfway house and the green bench Brooks rested and reflected on after his release. There is also the Food Way(now a convenience/grocery store called the KV market) which was used in the movie. It was purchased by a Brampton family and now looks nothing like the market Red was employed at following his release. I had a nice chat with the owner’s son about life in rural Ohio and whether the Honey Jalapeno Fetty Wap chips were any good.

The Shawshank trail also scoots up to Upper Sandusky (which is south of Sandusky….). Here you can see the courthouse where Andy was originally sentenced in the movie as well as the workshop where many of the prisoners worked throughout the movie. Other than that, it is a quaint Northern Ohio place with a picturesque central street where you can get a decent coffee and a friendly small town smile at a place called Beca House Coffee Co.

Given I stumbled across Mansfield by fluke at the 11th hour, I didn’t have a chance to venture to Ashfield or Butler to sit under the “Shawshank oak tree” and ponder why I might want to get “Brooks was Here” tattooed on my forearms in sanskrit. I guess I don’t really have to; I bought the beer koozie which I can nicely tuck it away in a drawer when the novelty wears off.

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R.I.P Anthony Bourdain: Trying to Understand the Real Parts Unknown

The sudden death of Anthony Bourdain by suicide hit me hard.  I’m the last guy to get on facebook and overblow what the death of a celebrity meant to me. I didn’t lose my virginity while reading Kitchen Confidential or become a half ass blogger because of him..I just respected the hell out of him.

On the heels of Kate Spade’s suicide this week, it is clear mental illness has no limitations and does not affect any specific phenotypes.  Anthony was the manliest of men and Kate the girliest of girls and I would almost argue that 90% of humanity falls somewhere in between. In other words, we are all targets of this malicious disease.

In comparison, Gord Downie’s cancer was another tragedy which hit me hard. Gord filled my ears while Anthony filled by belly.  Unlike depression, however,  Gord was given some time and allowed to close out his life with an epic concert series and the ability to say goodbye to his friends, family and fans.  They raised thousands for cancer research and the whole Canadian musical community came together in a full blown and multi-city memorial.  What happened to Gord was not his fault…for whatever reason cancer picked him and made him the weak member of the pack just like a lion would target and attack the injured antelope in a slow and methodical way.

Anthony, on the other hand, didn’t get to celebrate his life; he just took it.  There were no celebrations or unification of the culinary community; he was alone except for the darkness that told him the best solution was to take his life.  He was the head lion in the pride; successful, confident, respected and almost invincible but unlike the slow and methodical hunt that is called cancer, he was taken out by depression in one swift and ruthless attack.

It seems then that cancer and depression are not much different but last time I checked, there is no chemo for the soul. However,  reactions continue to be very different.  We empathize for Gord’s loved ones and ask “Why did the cancer do this to him?” and yet with Anthony, Kate and others the first reaction is “How could he/she do that to them?”. Depression is not a fake disease made up by pharmaceutical companies to make money.  It’s not treated with St. John’s Wort or ignorance.  It doesn’t go away when things in life get better nor does it prey on the weak alone.  It’s not classified in stages and doesn’t come with a ominous prognosis like “he only has 3-6 months to live”.

Like many, I perused the net while reflecting of Anthony’s life and found an article from US weekly called Anthony Bourdain: 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me facts that struck me:

7. I haven’t worn an earring or thumb ring since my daughter was born. Dads shouldn’t have earrings. Or thumb rings.

12. I love nothing more than cooking with my daughter.

13. I recently bought her her very first chef’s knife.

23. It’s really me handling my Twitter account.

24. I am afraid of clowns, nurse’s shoes and pressure cookers.

25. I have very rigid criteria for what makes a good burger. And a brioche bun is not part of it.

I always thought Anthony was invincible and if anything, his fate would be at the hands of a venomous scorpion or a stray bullet striking his Achilles tendon during a trip in a war torn country on the other side of the planet.  Instead, he was killed by something much more global than the slums of Vietnam and something much more lethal than the sting of an arachnid.   I think I will celebrate his life eating a greasy smash burger on a Wonder bun that I made with my daughter while watching “It” or Nurse Jackie and thanking the Lord i don’t live with a disease scarier than a floating red balloon that might pop at any second.  RIP Anthony.