A Visit to Ohio State Reformatory

Ohio State Reformatory cell bars
Ohio State Reformatory cell bars
On a trip to Columbus, Ohio, my family and I were lucky enough to visit Mansfield, Ohio, while reviewing for Trekaroo. About an hour’s drive northeast of Columbus, the quaint town is famous for its love of ghostly spots and promotes a haunted Mansfield tour.
What really draws in thousands of visitors each year is the Ohio State Reformatory- the magnificent building where convicted men would be housed and imprisoned for nearly 100 years. In 1990, the reformatory closed and has been a popular spot for tourists that want to check out where Shawshank Redemption was filmed, among other movies and music and hip hop videos. Yep, I said videos. Mansfield is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of Shawshank and I was elated to visit on such a special occasion.
Ohio State Reformatory exterior
My daughter and I visited in July for the sole purpose of touring the facility and definitely not for the creepy factor that the building instills in many a visitor. The kid is not a fan of creepy, much to my dismay, so our visit was for educational purposes only. Maybe one day I’ll get to visit for the creepy, eerie take. Maybe. 
Ohio State Reformatory historical plaque
The reformatory was called as such because they not only wanted its prisoners to atone for their sins and wrongdoings, but to encourage a rebirth of their spiritual lives that would turn them away from their lives of sin and misdoing. The reformatory housed well over 150,000 inmates from 1896 to 1990 and many of its rooms are in serious disrepair and quite beautiful in my opinion. 

Our Visit

Ohio State Reformatory old fireplace
Our tour of the reformatory took us through many of the rooms where Shawshank Redemption was filmed and, although I’m not a huge fan of the movie (I only saw it once when I was much younger. Cut me a break, okay?), I was able to appreciate the setting of it for the beauty. There’s something about old, run down buildings that makes me really start to ponder. I wonder who lived there, why it is now not abandoned, and I try to picture it in all of its once-former glory. It’s kind of like finding shapes in clouds for me. 
Ohio State Reformatory staircases
There’s plenty of walking including several flights of stairs and long corridors. I could see a visit lasting well over 2 hours to take in everything, but we managed to walk through in about 90 minutes. There were some spots that the kid refused to walk into so she stood outside the doorways and I peeked my head around the corners. 
Ohio State Reformatory hidden book shawshank
One room I found fascinating was Warden Norton’s room. We were able to check out the safe and a copy of the bible from Shawshank Redemption was inside with the hole cut out. It was fun to see that Andy’s inscription was written on the front cover. 
Ohio State Reformatory pretty lighting on floor
I loved the X on the floor from where the window light from four sunny rooms converge on the hallway floor.
Ohio State Reformatory rusty cell bars
Once we finished our room walk through, we headed to the East and West Cell block areas. Left basically untouched (except for one or two cells used for music videos), the cell block area was a photographer’s dream. The eeriness combined with the sunny day we had made for some great photo ops. 
Ohio State Reformatory inside a cell
I walked into a few of the jail cells and immediately noticed how teeny they were for one inmate, let alone two. There was no privacy and no view. 
Ohio State Reformatory go dj
Lil Wayne filmed his music video “Go DJ” on location at the reformatory and gilded a cell for it. 
Ohio State Reformatory stuck inside jail cell
Near the end of our tour, we came across this sweet couple on their first date. Jokingly, the boy closed the cell door while his date was inside and the door LOCKED. We tried everything including using our own keys to unlock the door, but eventually the staff had to come and try their keys. I was told that they do have keys to some of the cells but many do not.
What do they do in that case? They call a locksmith and the visitors are charged with the bill. We didn’t stick around for the ending, but I do hope that there was a quick exit. Lesson to be learned here, folks: when visiting, do not close the cell doors!
Ohio State Reformatory turret


Ohio State Reformatory is open daily from 11am to 4pm April 1st through September 1st and closed on major holidays. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for kids, and there are military and senior discounts. Audio wands are $5 each and are totally worth the extra cost for the amount of info they divulge. 
On Sundays the reformatory gives guided tours which last about an hour. We chose a weekday self-guided tour with an audio wand that gives tons of details on the tour. 
It’s suggested that kids under the age of 7 not tour due to the large amount of peeling lead-based paint. I personally think they may find it creepy as well, but that’s just my opinion. 
I loved my tour of Ohio State Reformatory. The kid? Well, she could have passed on it. I think next time I’ll visit with a bunch of adults and check out what I missed the first time. 
Disclosure: And now the technical stuff: I was hosted by Experience Columbus and Ohio State Reformatory to bring you fine folks the scoop on my visit. They certainly didn’t ask me to state a particular point of view, and my opinions are all my own.
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