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The Shawshank Redemption: A Realistic Look at Prison Life and Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 movie directed by Frank Darabont and based on a book by Stephen King. The film is about the dramatic story of Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins. The story began in 1949 when Dufresne was sentenced to two life sentences for the murder of his wife and her lover. Dufresne was a successful and smart banker. He maintained his innocence throughout the trial and during his time in prison. 

Reality of Prison

Andy was sent to Shawshank prison in Maine. From the first day of imprisonment, Dufresne was subjected to the harsh reality of dehumanization in prisons. From seeing a fellow inmate being beaten by the guards for asking about food to having all new inmates showered by hoses and walking to their cells naked. For a few months, Andy kept to himself and then slowly started to talk to others and make friends. The first inmate Andy befriended was Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman. Red is the prison’s black market dealer. The film shows that the most valuable form of currency in prison is cigarettes. 

Sexual Harassment

It did not take long for Andy to be sexually harassed and assaulted. Andy was repeatedly assaulted and attacked by a group of homosexuals called “the sisters.” It was not until Andy helped the prison captain with personal accounting assistance that the guards stepped in to protect him from the sisters’ regular attacks. This shows that inmates have to do favors and personal work for the guards to get assistance or even illegal stuff like the beer given to Andy and his friends. 

Reentry After a Life of Imprisonment

The movie shows the life of Brooks, an old inmate who was paroled after serving 50 years. Old Brooks was trying to kill another inmate so he would stay in prison. Andy, Red, and the other group of friends managed to talk Brooks out of it, and he left the jail soon after. Brooks struggled with reentry even though the state arranged for a transition house and job. After Brooks decided he couldn’t go on any longer in this alien life, he hanged himself. 


Another side of the story was the religious warden. He used religion and the bible to show himself as a man of dignity and honor, but in fact, he was a corrupted man. The warden was involved in brutal torturing and miss-treatment of prisoners. He arranged for the prisoners to do labor work outside the prison. This kind of prisoner labor can hurt local businesses because they cannot compete with the prisoners’ cost. This is true in real life and led to abolishing prisoners’ labor for commercials goals. In the film, a local contractor bribes the warden, so the prison does not operate in his area. Andy helped the warden with his money laundering scheme and bribe money.

Andy’s Innocence

A twist in the film was when a prisoner admits to killing Andy’s wife and her lover. He admitted to Andy’s friend, who told Andy about the man’s confession. Andy told the warden about it, but the warden tried to silence him and later silenced Andy’s friend by killing him. 

The Escape

Andy kept hope and kept his plans to himself. One day during a morning check-up, the guards found out that Andy was gone. Andy escaped through a tunnel that he dug during his almost 20 years of stay in Shawshank prison. Andy went to the banks to collect the warden’s money that he was laundering. After collecting all the money, he ran away to Mexico.

Meeting in Mexico

Red was scheduled for his parole hearing, where he was asked if he was ready to go, but Red said he is not prepared and wanted to stay the rest of his life in prison. Red’s parole was approved, and he was freed. He stayed in the same transition apartment Brooks once lived in and had the same job. Red was also struggling with adapting to the outside world. He kept thinking about his life in the past 40 years in prison. Following Andy’s direction, Red went to a location that Andy told him about if they manage to get out. By following the guide, Red and Andy met again in Mexico after escaping the USA.

Comparison with Real-life Scenarios

The story of Red and Brooks might seem like a movie fiction that would never happen in real life. Still, in reality, it is the real-life story of almost every prisoner who spends such a long time being locked and separated from the world. Some commit suicide, some commit crimes to go back to prison, some commit crimes because this is the only life they know, and a few reunite with family and try to live a normal life. 

Exoneration after a Life of Incarceration

As an innocent man sentenced to two life sentences and serving 20 years before escaping, Andy’s story might seem unique and only in movie fiction. Still, hundreds of convicted prisoners get exonerated after serving years for crimes they have not committed. Cases of being exonerated after serving tens of years in prisons are no longer odds. This leaves us to think about the wrongly convicted prisoners who could not prove their innocence.


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Watch the Movie
Shawshank Redemption – The Book
The Shawshank Redemption Revealed: How One Story Keeps Hope Alive – Related Book

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