There’s a guy like me in every state and federal prison in America, I guess – I’m the guy who can get it for you. Tailor-made cigarettes, a bag of reefer, if you’re partial to that, a bottle of brandy to celebrate your son or daughter’s high school graduation, or almost anything else… within reason, that is. It wasn’t always that way.
I came to Shawshank when I was just twenty, and I am one of the few people in our happy little family who is willing to own up to what he did. I committed murder. I put a large insurance policy on my wife, who was three years older than I was, and then I fixed the brakes of the Chevrolet coupe her father had given us as a wedding present. It worked out exactly as I had planned, except I hadn’t planned on her stopping to pick up the neighbour woman and the neighbour woman’s infant son on the way down Castle Hill and into town. The brakes let go and the car crashed through the bushes at the edge of the town common, gathering speed. Bystanders said it must have been doing fifty or better when it hit the base of the Civil War statue and burst into flames.
I also hadn’t planned on getting caught, but caught I was. I got a season’s pass into this place. Maine has no death penalty, but the district attorney saw to it that I was tried for all three deaths and given three life sentences, to run one after the other. That fixed up any chance of parole I might have, for a long, long time. The judge called what I had done ‘a hideous, heinous crime’, and it was, but it is also in the past now. You can look it up in the yellowing files of the Castle Rock Call, where the big headlines announcing my conviction look sort of funny and antique next to the news of Hitler and Mussolini and FDR’s alphabet soup agencies.
Have I rehabilitated myself, you ask? I don’t know what that word means, at least as far as prisons and
corrections go. I think it’s a politician’s word. It may have some other meaning, and it may be that I will have a chance to find out, but that is the future… something cons teach themselves not to think about. I was young, good-looking, and from the poor side of town. I knocked up a pretty, sulky, headstrong girl who lived in one of the fine old houses on Carbine Street. Her father was agreeable to the marriage if I would take a job in the optical company he owned and ‘work my way up’. I found out that what he really had in mind was keeping me in his house and under his thumb, like a disagreeable pet that has not quite been housebroken and which may bite. Enough hate eventually piled up to cause me to do what I did. Given a second chance I would not do it again, but I’m not sure that means I am rehabilitated.
Anyway, it’s not me I want to tell you about; I want to tell you about a guy named Andy Dufresne. But before I can tell you about Andy, I have to explain a few other things about myself. It won’t take long.
As I said, I’ve been the guy who can get it for you here at Shawshank for damn near forty years. And that doesn’t just mean contraband items like extra cigarettes or booze, although those items always top the list. But I’ve gotten thousands of other items for men doing time here, some of them perfectly legal yet hard to come by in a place where you’ve supposedly been brought to be punished. There was one fellow who was in for raping a little girl and exposing himself to dozens of others; I got him three pieces of pink Vermont marble and he did three lovely sculptures out of them – a baby, a boy of about twelve, and a bearded young man.