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.

What if Jeff Foxworthy was a Hipster instead of a Redneck?

I went to school at the University of Guelph which meant I got to know a lot of agriculture students, many of which are self-proclaimed rednecks. I also grew up in Sudbury.  As a result, I could relate when Jeff Foxworthy burst onto the scene in the early nineties with his signature “You Might Be a Redneck” franchise. To this date, I still laugh at them. The latest one I heard was “If you have just been interviewed about the tornado for the fifth time…you might be a redneck.”  I appreciate his humour in the sense that, like Jerry Seinfeld, he can make fun of the boring antics of Caucasians through astute observation.

This got me thinking what would happen if Jeff were a hipster.  I think he would have a field day with the antics of this outrageous urban subculture. There are definite differences between rednecks and hipsters. For example, ask both what PBR means and one would reference professional  bull riding while the other would ask for a beer.  I’m not pretending for a second that I’m some hilarious comedian but I do eat out a lot and have been immersed in this culture long enough to make some general observations.  So here is my attempt at “you might be a hipster”:

  1. If you read your tattoos to kill time on the subway…you might be a hipster.
  2. If your wardrobe is less diverse than Fred Flintstone’s…you might be a hipster.
  3. If at least one of your T-shirts has a picture of Fred Flintstone…you might be a hipster.
  4. If your happy hour starts at 10 pm…you might be a hipster.
  5. If your pre-set iPhone alarm contains nothing with the letters “am” in it…you might be a hipster.
  6. If your meaning of gelling with someone is comparing the product in your slick backs…you might be a hipster.
  7. If your primarily using your Bachelor of Arts to sculpt your mustache…you might be a hipster.
  8. If you live above where you eat…you might be a hipster.
  9. If you know the difference between crudo and carpaccio but not the difference between walk and don’t walk…you might be a hipster.
  10. If you can identify Nicaragua, Columbia and Kenya in a cup but not on a map…you might be a hipster.
  11. If you have “ubered” yourself for a ride home…you might be a hipster.
  12. If your definition of a car payment is $10 to a food truck…you might be a hipster.
  13. If you wait longer for a taco than you do a medical procedure…you might be a hipster.
  14. If you think “gimmie the skinny” means taking off your tie…you might be a hipster.
  15. If you need to register your beard with animal control on an annual basis…you might be a hipster.

I have no plans to quit my job and join the Plaid Collar Tour anytime soon but hey…it helps ease the pain.