Escape to Freedom

By Judy Berman

Sometimes, life hems you into a holding pattern that’s hard to break away from.

You might be reluctant to strike out on your own when you have the status symbol of the decade: a job. Leave a steady paycheck and benefits? Whoa!

Others plot and plan their escape. They see a more hopeful future elsewhere.

Colleagues’ reaction to their departure is like inmates who are giddy with excitement to see one of their own set free. For them, life is a prison.

Visions of their boss hovering over them – like the dementors in “Harry Potter” – have them tossing fitfully in their sleep. They feel that once his/her shadow has crossed them and/or their work, all joy and life forces have been sucked out of them.

The question is: “What are they prepared to do?” Give up, accept the hand life has dealt them or move on?

Those are the choices Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) faces in “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994). The movie, written and directed by Frank Darabont, was based on the Stephen King novella, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.”

Dufresne, a banker, is sent to prison for life for the murder of his wife and her lover. He didn’t do it, and yet he has to endure the hardships that accompany such a place.

Despite this, he has hope and quietly bides his time for an opportunity to fulfill his dreams. He tells fellow prisoner, Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) that it’s a choice of either “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”

Red, who narrates the film, is a fixer. He’s able to get contraband: cigarettes and whiskey. When Andy asks if Red can get him a little rock pick and a Rita Hayworth poster, no problem. Red quickly warms to this quiet, soft-spoken man.

Andy also is a problem-solver. When he overhears a guard complaining about taxes, Andy finds a solution. His experience in banking proves to be a boon for prison guards at Shawshank and at a nearby prison, and the corrupt warden, Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton).

Inmates also benefit. A convict crew, working a roofing detail, get ice-cold beers because Andy made that request in exchange for his financial advice to the guards. Later, Andy finds a way to get state funding to expand the prison library.

Years slip by. Andy helps a new inmate, Tommy Williams (Gil Bellows), pass his high school equivalency exam. One day, Red tells Williams what Andy is in for. Williams tells Andy and Red that an inmate at another prison claimed responsibility for two murders that were identical to Andy’s case.

It appears that freedom is within Andy’s grasp. But Warden Norton sabotages those plans. Norton fears Andy knows too much about the scams, kickbacks and money-laundering schemes behind bars.

Andy tells Red that he dreams of living in Zihuatanejo, a Mexican Pacific Coastal town. He tells Red that, if he’s freed, he should go to a specific field to retrieve a package that Andy hid under a large volcanic rock.

One day, Red takes his old friend’s advice. Red shrugs off concerns about violating his parole. He heads for a Texas border town to cross over into Mexico:

“I doubt they’ll toss up any roadblocks for that, not for an old crook like me. I find I’m so excited – I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I imagine it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at the start of a long journey, whose conclusion is uncertain.”


Red has to remind himself that “some birds aren’t meant to be caged. When they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice.”

Life might seem more dreary and empty with their absence.

Red truly was a changed man because of Andy. Andy gave Red the one thing he thought he’d lost years before: hope.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Movie trailer: The Shawshank Redemption (1994) –  

Photo: Shorebird – taken Dec. 19, 2006 by vastateparkstaff

  1. I love the way you described the characters and plot in this, Judy! Also, the humanity and emotions of this favorite movie of mine! Great post and it gives us all “Hope” when we read, hear or see such inspiring friendships! Hugs, Robin

    1. Prison seems an unlikely place to find hope, but this movie does so thru its characters. I also love the friendship between Red and Andy. Thank you for your comments, Robin. 😉

  2. I saw the movie and it was moving. There is a book called “Orange is the New Black” and it has similar unlikely friendships.

    1. This could have been a much darker film. I actually chuckled in some spots and I certainly rooted for the friendships that formed. I’ve seen the title: “Orange is the New Black.” A FB friend just recommended “Green Mile” with Tom Hanks – another film in this same category.

  3. As I read your review and admired the snaphots you chose, I thought of a movie of the the same vintage (1999) I saw that meshes well with The Shawshank Redemption: The Green Mile. And lo, and behold, you mention it in your comment to Kate. In my mind’s eye I can still see those metaphorical, square pieces of tile on Death Row. Special gifts and hopeful dreams often cannot be restrained by prison bars.

    Incidentally, I thought it was interesting that you mention having a job as the status symbol of the decade. For Millennials and younger it may well be! Thought-provoking post, Judy.

    1. I haven’t seen “Green Mile,” Marian. Your description intrigues me. I plan to check it out this summer.

      Thank you for your comments. “Having a job as the status symbol of the decade” was an observation a friend of mine – who was unemployed – made when I decided to stay on at a job rather than quit and freelance. I really was happy that I chose to stay.

  4. I guess this is a case of meeting someone you are meant to meet again, but in not such good circumstances – but life is like that, we meet the people we are meant to meet at the right time in the most unlikely places sometimes! 🙂 It’s not a film I’ve ever taken the time to watch, I know the title really well, but just never got round to watching it, so thanks for that information, I shall put it on my list for watching very soon! 🙂 Have you read the Stephen King Novella?

    1. It is a dark film, but it has many light and funny moments. I love the friendship that formed and the hope that it inspires. Some friends tell me that they watch it every year for those very reasons. 😉

      I did read the Stephen King novella years ago. It’s excellent.

  5. It is one of my favorite movies of all times! It touches upon some of the most powerful human emotions.

    Thank you for writing about it so well.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Daniela. So many people I know love this film that I had to check it out. I’ve seen it twice. The story’s (movie’s) friendship, hope and intense emotions makes it a compelling one to read/watch. 😉

  6. Great summary, Judy. I’ve seen the film only once, even though we have the DVD, and I’ve been meaning to watch it again. Thank you for the reminder.

  7. I LOVE this movie–and your details–and we all need to choose “get busy living or get busy dying.” Such a reminder, Judy.
    Another excellent post.

  8. Interesting to learn that it was based on a Stephen King novella. Coincidentally, I just read a short piece of his for my writing class, called “The Ring,” about the meaning behind his wedding ring.

  9. Dear Judy,

    What a beautiful post! The way you describe the characters seems to make them ‘larger than life’ for me. Or is this perception coming from an underlying strata of “Hope” that is running throughout for all the actors? Ironic isn’t it that the ‘Bad’ guys in the prison are really the good ones and the so called ‘Good’ ones are really the bad guys?

    I have missed seeing ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ till now but your post has firmed up my resolve to see it at the earliest.


    1. Dear Shakti …

      An interesting observation. Andy (Tim Robbins) told Red (Morgan Freeman) that he was a real straight arrow on the outside, that he had to go to prison to learn how to become a crook. Red and Andy aren’t perfect, but they’re much more noble, honest and likable than some of those who run the prison.

      Hope you get to see “The Shawhank Redemption” soon. Let me know what you think.


  10. Great review, my dear Judy– thanks. I’ve heard that movie title many times, but have never seen the movie. Interesting how in most prison movies, the inmates are the good guys, and the authorities are the bad guys. I doubt this is true in real life, but fortunately, I’ve never had the opportunity to check it out firsthand. Well, not yet anyway… : )

    1. Mark … When I was a radio reporter, I dressed up as a county jail deputy for a story. That was as close as I want to get to seeing prison up close and personal. They can’t hit a moving target, so just zig zag to confuse them. 😉 (Thanks for the comments.)

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