Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Hiking, Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing

Off To Prison: Exploring the Ohio State Reformatory

Ben and I had both seen the movie Shawshank Redemption many years ago. (Who hasn’t at this point?) With our post-trip adventure spirit of wanting to see new things, we decided to finally see the Ohio State Reformatory (aka the OSR). What do the two have in common? Parts of Shawshank were filmed at the OSR. The Ohio State Reformatory closed in 1990, after a lawsuit filed by prisoners citing conditions and overcrowding.

The prison does not have all of the outbuildings anymore, but the main building is still standing. The architecture is amazing and gives an imposing castle-like appearance.

(Ohio State Reformatory (OSR) Exterior Images: click to enlarge)
(OSR Interior Images, Tour Details, Handcuff queue barrier: click to enlarge)
(OSR Interior Images: click to enlarge)

There are two wings to the prison: East Block and West Block. The East Block was the second cell block built and holds the record for being the “largest free-standing steel cell block“. The West Block was built first and is made with concrete. This part of the prison was supposedly better for temperature control (concrete as an insulator, versus metal heats up in the summer).

EAST BLOCK IMAGES:

(East Cell Block Images, East Cell Block Showers, Mail Station: click to enlarge)
(East Block Cells, Library, Spiral Staircase: click to enlarge)
(East Block Cells: click to enlarge)

WEST BLOCK IMAGES:

(Room Between East and West Blocks, West Block Images, Solitary Confinement Rooms: click to enlarge)
(West Block Cells: click to enlarge)
(West Block Showers, Walkway, 1896 Prisoner List: click to enlarge)

You begin the tour on the upper floors of the East Block Cells. If you get vertigo, do not look down over the railings!

During our walk through the East Block, we went through a corridor. The building was built so symmetrically that when there is sunlight coming through the windows and the room doors are open, an X forms on the floor. We were there on a cloudy, rainy day, but were lucky enough that the sun peaked through enough that we could see the X.

(Symmetric Building, X in Sunlight: click to enlarge)
(Chapel, Elevator: click to enlarge)

You will eventually make it to the Guard Room on the upper floors. It sits between the East and West blocks. I almost wish we were able to start the tour here. It gives you a good overview of both sides of the prison. This room has been restored with large glass windows for viewing both cell blocks and is available for event rental.

(Guard Room Images: click to enlarge)

One of the main differences between the movie and the prison was the cell layout. The movie had the cells looking at each other, but the prison actually had the cells facing the outer walls/windows. The shower rooms were horrible. Although the movie shows them all standing next to each other in the shower room, our audio tour stated that in the East Block shower room, the prisoners would hang up their towels and would then have one minute to walk down the line of showerheads, washing as they went, single file. They got showers once a week! (FUN NOTE: During the shower scene in the movie, there was no hot water. They used dry ice to create steam and they were all washing in cold water.)

Walking The East Block Shower

The interior of the prison is striking. Not necessarily for good reasons. The common areas, where visitors would arrive and the offices are more decorative; detailed wood door and window frames, tiled floors, decorative staircase (looks like carved wood, but is actually painted metal). The cell blocks are six levels high, facing the outer walls/windows. The doors are very small. If you were a bigger person, it would not be comfortable getting in and out of the cells. The cells are also small for two people. Some of them were designed originally for 1 person occupancy, but later had two people per room (the room size did not change).

It’s a little haunting walking through, even in the daytime. The lighting is dim, especially on a rainy day like we had. There are several layers of paint peeling off the walls, bars, cells, etc. The building sat empty for many years, and maintenance has been done on the building, and the administration rooms. The rest of the building is in various states, so I would recommend wearing flat, closed-toe shoes. There were several areas of puddles or debris on the floor. The building was constructed in the late 1800s, with its first prisoners admitted in 1896. I am sure there is still lead paint and asbestos contained in the building. There were spots where windows were missing or broken, letting the weather into the building. The cell blocks are not really heated or air-conditioned, although the museum/store/ticket area is temperature-controlled, so dress for the weather.

The museum area had some interesting items, including several different types of shanks and souvenirs people could buy about the prison/prisoners (including postcards of death row inmates).

(Museum Images: click to enlarge)
(Museum Images, Souvenirs, Prisoner Woodworking Items: click to enlarge)
(Shawshank Redemption Movie Items: click to enlarge)
(Round Rooms, Tiny Doors: click to enlarge)

Shawshank Redemption may be the most popular movie shot at the prison, but there have been several other movies that have been filmed at this location. There have even been some music videos!

(Small Cell Door Width, Lil Wayne Music Video Cell: click to enlarge)

There are several different types of tours available: self-guided, self-guided with an audio wand rental, tour guide, Shawshank, ghost, etc. I would definitely recommend renting an audio wand. It was $5/wand. The volume is not very loud and you hold it next to your ear, so you may be able to get 1 wand per 2 people if you place your heads close together, but it is worth it to rent them for your whole group. There are a few signs around, mostly markers for the audio tour that have extremely limited information on them. You will miss out on a lot of information if you do not have an audio wand or go with a tour group. I think it would make the experience a lot less enjoyable. Even if you are not a ghost believer, I think going on a ghost tour at night would be extremely freaky. The atmosphere of the prison is haunting during the day, but without sunlight, it would be scary (even just for tripping hazards).

TIPS:

  • Wear closed toed shoes.
  • Dress for the weather.
  • Rent the Audio Wand for the self guided tour!
  • Be aware. Although not currently a prison, there is an active prison located behind it. You will know where because on the windows that face the active prison there are “pictures taken out these windows is prohibited” signs.

DETAILS:

  • WHERE: 100 Reformatory Rd, Mansfield, OH 44905
  • HOURS: Daily 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • COSTS: $25+ (adult tickets). Please check website for pricing for children/adults/seniors and different tours offered.
  • PARKING: Yes 
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1.5 hours+
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: N/A
  • Details correct at time of posting, please double check before you go.

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(Small Cell Door Width, Lil Wayne Music Video Cell: click to enlarge)