20 YEARS ON - WHAT SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION TAUGHT US ABOUT PRISON

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Shawshank Redemption Looking back at the Shawshank Redemption two decades on is somehow fitting - since it took a period of time close to that for Andy Dufresne to escape. Critically-acclaimed and life-affirming, perhaps one of the film’s greatest triumphs is that we invest and believe in the time it took Andy to gain freedom, but the film never seems to drag or tire. The many contrasts of life and death, monotony and ingenuity, friendship and enemies, and grey walls and glorious beaches are explored in a brilliant two hours and 22 minutes.





Of course the penitentiary system in the US and UK has altered somewhat from post-World War II America - hasn’t it? Has the prison system, which you can explore at Jail Exchange, moved on? Is there anything we can take from the film to apply to the prison system today? Are there any comparisons to be made? Here are three observations:


Wentworth Prison Cast
Prison life is still tough

Shawshank Redemption begins in 1947 in Maine, and describes a brutal, stark prison life where opportunities to grow inside are torturous. Little is said about the outside world because no-one seems to believe they will see it again. 

Culture and literature seem to be alien to the prisoners until Dufresne fights for an extended library, memorably announcing the great news over the tannoy system through the medium of opera. Beatings are commonplace and corruption is rife.

In 2014 we may have an idea that things are different and prison is somewhat easy; prisoners have access to games consoles and snooker rooms, and can take examinations and order books with ease. But statistics show that some young men still cannot cope with time spent in prison, and decide to take their own lives. 

According to the Guardian at least six people a month commit suicide in prisons, mainly young men or people with mental illnesses. Some had only entered a few hours before, others felt helpless and powerless, with nowhere to turn. 

One would hope that in the 21st Century the system may have moved on somewhat, to aid vulnerable occupants. Prisons are designed to punish, but not destroy, as Andy and Red prove.


Paris Hilton Prison
More support is needed outside

Brooks Hatlen’s story is the saddest in the film. Happy and respected at the prison, with a steady job as a librarian and a pet crow named Jake, the elderly man is totally unprepared for the outside world. Lonely and desperate, and working in a hateful grocery store, Hadlen takes his own life. 

In 2014 there is a more structured approach to rehabilitating offenders once they leave prison. A person leaving has access to Jobseeker’s Allowance and help from local authorities, as well as support from organisations such as the Prison Reform trust. Even mobile phones, social media and emails at least provide a person leaving prison with a greater chance of re-engaging with friends and family.

But the challenges facing someone emerging from prison are still daunting, especially someone with no home, job or family. Reoffending is commonplace. 

The difficulties were summed up by ex-offender Vicky Price in the Telegraph, imprisoned for nine weeks for accepting points on her driving license on behalf of her husband Chris Huhne. She is now pushing to help find enhanced opportunities for those with criminal convictions.


Iron Heights Penitentiary
Plan ahead

Unlike Brooks, Andy has a plan - a long-term one. He has age on his side, a burning sense of injustice, technical and legal knowledge of his situation, and of course, hope. It is what keeps him alive, even when Warden Norton tries to destroy him. 

Nowadays in the UK The Prisoners’ Education Trust exists to provide prisoners with learning opportunities and avenues to explore post-prison, through distance learning courses, arts and hobbies, and support.

There was little charity to be found in Shawshank, but the messages contained within for the prisoner still resonate today. Believe in yourself and what you can do, be patient and open to ideas, and achieve your dreams when you emerge.

This article was brought to you by Brighton’s very own, Louise Wood, who's an experienced journalist and blogger with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for writing. Bless her.