The Real Shawshank Redemption

Frank Freshwaters: first and last mugshots.

Frank Freshwaters: first and last mugshots.


One of my favourite works of fiction has long been Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which was turned into an equally brilliant movie.

But is it fiction?

The “real” Andy Dufresne was a man named Frank Freshwaters. In 1957, Frank pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received a suspended sentence. However, unlike Andy, Frank wasn’t too bright–or maybe he was just reckless–and he violated his probation. In 1959, he was sentenced up to 20 years at the Ohio State Reformatory–the very same prison where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed.

Frank managed to form relationships with his captors, and convinced them he could be trusted…much like Andy did. As a result, he was transferred to what is known as an “honour farm”–basically, a farm that was owned by the prison.

He escaped during the same year, but his freedom was interrupted in 1975, when he was arrested in Charleston, West Virginia. When the governor refused to send him back to Ohio, he was freed and disappeared again.



And just like Andy, Frank enjoyed his freedom for a long, long time, until a deputy marshal decided to investigate this cold case. He found Frank in Florida, where the felon was living under the name William Harold Cox.

Frank had retired from life as a truck driver and was living on social-security benefits before he was again brought to justice…58 years later.

The “real” Andy Dufresne is now 79 years old and confined to a wheelchair. Do you think he should spend the rest of his life in jail? Are you glad he was captured?


  1. Manslaughter usually implies no intent to kill. Not sure how he violated his parole either. But if there were no further crimes connected to his aliases, then I say it is probably a waste of taxpayer money to incarcerate him.

    • JH

      I agree, Barbara. The poor guy is 79 years old and in a wheelchair. I’d leave him be, already. But then again, I could see how the victim’s family might feel differently.

    • JH

      Yes, it was. I think that was the best adaptation of his work. Stand By Me was also amazing. Hollywood had good luck with the “Different Seasons” collection until they got to Apt Pupil.

      That one was a disaster.

    • JH

      I agree on both counts, Alex. How on earth is he going to survive in prison in a wheelchair?

      You have to admire his determination.

  2. The movie was genius. I never read Stephen King’s work for it though. He’s 79 years old now, harmless and just living out his last days. I agree that it would be pointless to put him into jail now.

    • JH

      Oh, you have to read the novella, Chrys! The most beautiful lines and scenes from the movie are word-for-word King. If you like the movie, you will love that story. It has so much depth.

      I agree with it being pointless. Surely there are other cold cases that are more worthy of investigation.

  3. Probably…but I’m sure they won’t. If they let him go, they’ll set a dangerous precedent where escapees are allowed to just get away with it. I think it’s all about consistency where the law is concerned.

    • JH

      I agree, Stephanie. But with all the cold cases in the world, surely there were others more worthy of pursuit. This seems kind of like an ego thing to me.

      What a miserable place to spend the last years of one’s life. I hope his remaining sentence is commuted.

  4. I can see the emotional side of letting an old guy just be. However, justice is not about whether or not you’re a danger to society any longer. He’s lived a longer fuller life than his victim got to and while it may suck to be a in a wheelchair in prison, he has only his choices to blame.

    • JH

      Thanks for weighing in, Frank. I can see that side as well. While I’m sorry for the old duffer, I get that his victim didn’t have the same opportunities.

      At least he turned his life around after that mistake. I couldn’t find any indication that he’d been in further trouble with the law.

  5. Lisa

    “The Shawshank Redemption” is on my top 10 list of favourite movies. I could watch it over and over again. (That one and “The Green Mile”)
    I can see both sides of this and hear what you are saying about his life almost already being a prison sentence. Too bad they can’t address each situation on a case-by-case basis.

    • JH

      I agree, Lisa. There are definitely two sides to this. I’m sure I’d feel differently if I spoke to the victim’s family.

      It’s been forever since I’ve watched Shawshank. It’s definitely time for a re-watch!

      Thanks for commenting! <3

  6. I’m with Barbara and most of the other commenters. This man obviously isn’t a threat to society. Incarcerating him serves no purpose, especially since his only crimes are manslaughter and escaping. I hope he gets a suspended sentence, poor old guy.

    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Lexa, and welcome back! I agree, but I know I’d feel differently if he’d killed someone in my family. If he killed someone, he should have done some time, but at this point, I’d say the jig is up.

      He’s lived his whole life looking over his shoulder. Some would say that’s more punishment than if he’d just done his few years and gotten it over with.

  7. stephen tremp

    I saw this in the papers. Nah … leave him alone. If he was Nazi who killed a bunch of people at a concentration camp, then sure. Looks like he’s lead a clean life so why waste tax dollars on sending him back to prison. Maybe he can pick up litter in the trailer park while scooting about in his wheelchair.

    • JH

      Now that is a *fantastic* idea, Stephen–community service! That makes a lot more sense than sending him to jail. How on earth will he survive prison in a wheelchair?

      Thanks for commenting, and welcome to my blog! I hope to see you back here again.

    • JH

      From the Internets: Voluntary manslaughter is the killing of a human being in which the offender had no prior intent to kill and acted during “the heat of passion,” under circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed.

      That said, I have no details on Freshwaters’ specific crime. If anyone does, please let me know!

      • Florida Today: Frank Freshwaters was a baby-faced 21-year-old newlywed — with no criminal record and a job in the booming rubber industry — when his speeding car slammed into a father of three who was walking home in the pre-midnight darkness on July 3, 1957.
        FoxNews: A statement from the service says 79-year-old Frank Freshwaters, of Akron, was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter for killing a pedestrian with his car in 1957.

  8. Incarceration rates in the US are already ridiculously high, no need to add to it by adding in wheelchair-bound men that haven’t caused any trouble for 50+ years. Slap him with a fine, or set him up with community service like Stephen mentions above (or both!). Seems like there are better options than just locking him up.

    And the Shawshank Redemption is a great movie. 😀

    • JH

      Agreed, Sara, although the poor guy sounds like he’s broke, if he’s living off social security. He certainly didn’t profit from his crime.

      I really hope they consider one of these lighter punishments.

      Thanks for commenting! I checked your blog today too, just in case. 🙂

  9. I never knew the Shawshank Redemption was based loosely on a real person. Should he be able to live out his days outside prison? There are a lot of factors to consider. Is he a threat to society? Has his term served justice? Is he rehabilitated? Has his treatment acted as a deterrent to others committing crimes. Only an unbiased judge would have the facts at their disposal. We can only speculate.

    • JH

      That’s the whole fun of this blog, Tom–being able to speculate! 🙂 But I would guess that at 79 and in a wheelchair, he’s no longer a threat to society. He also stayed out of trouble for 58 years, so there’s that.

      I don’t know if King based his story on Freshwaters or not, but he could easily have been inspired by it.

      Thank you for commenting, and welcome to my blog! Hope to see you back here.

  10. The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorites as well. Morgan Freeman is so excellent in that one.

    I have to agree with other comments that putting someone like this back in jail is not the best use of taxpayer money. At this point, he would have a hard time disappearing.

    • JH

      Exactly, Tamara. I think the suggested community service is a fantastic idea, and a great solution for everyone.

      I love that movie so much. One of my all-time favorites. It may be one of Morgan Freeman’s best performances, and that’s saying something.

    • JH

      I wish I knew more about his actual crime, Mary, but I couldn’t find anything. It would probably take someone digging back into Ohio’s criminal archives.

      • The only thing I could find was that he was driving too fast and hit a pedestrian. He violated the conditions of his parole by getting behind the wheel again.

        • JH

          Thanks, Frank. Unfortunately, he sounds like a typical young driver with bad luck. Ironic that he ended up driving for a living!

  11. All those years he spent on the outside must have been nerve wracking wondering and waiting when the day would come when he’d be caught. That’s not any way to live! I’d say he got his natural Karma over the years…

    • JH

      I agree, Jaime. It probably would have been easier for him to do the time when he was young and get it over with. He probably would have been released early for good behaviour.

  12. It seems kind of inhumane to lock up a 79 year old who’s in a wheelchair and poses no threat to the public, but that’s not why he was locked up – he made a mockery of the system by escaping and that’s why he’s being punished now; so that the system can save face!

  13. well, glad to read about his manslaughter charge – Lexa Cain – in an earlier comment – I mean, not glad, it’s pretty awful. But it was not intentional. I don’t know where I stand on this … he must have lived this awful event forever. The family too. The film and the Green Mile was excellent. I believe Shawshank is a brilliant book. Thanks J.H. Interesting …

  14. Yes. If he murdered his wife that’s where he belongs. He was lucky to escape the long arm of the law.

    Shawshank is one of the books I listened to by King, and also enjoyed the movie. Excellent performances by the entire cast.

  15. I should probably watch the movie again after reading your blog and all the comments. When you accidentally kill someone (he was at fault speeding in his car), I would think you feel pretty bad and guilty and OK with going to prison for a while. But, then he escaped… This is all a tricky situation. When killing someone, you should get punished, but if that has happened and he is no threat to society at his old age, he should be able to live out his last years in peace, I think.

  16. Shawshank Redemption was such a good movie. Loved the original, too.
    Frank Freshwaters seems like one hell of an escape artist and con man (assuming a fake identity ‘and’ collecting fraudulent social security benefits for years – on top of escaping prison).
    If he’s incarcerated, he’ll still probably find a way to get out. 🙂

  17. I love the film-it is one of my favourites and can always watch and re-watch it. I would let the old geezer be because, if he could talk to his young self, like Red said in the film, he would tell the kid to slow down (read Lexa’s comment). They should keep some much, much, worse killers in prison which, many times, they let them go and deal with criminals who did escape but are true killers.

  18. Interesting. I would think if he was crime free in all that time there would be no point in sending him back to prison. Then again, I don’t know about his original crime. Really, though, isn’t prison meant to reform? At least in lip service to it? If so, and if he truly lived clean after escaping, it seems it worked, and he’s done his time.

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