MANSFIELD — Opening in 1896, the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield has a lot of history. Thanks to Mansfield's Nancy Darbey's new book, "The Ohio State Reformatory," people can take a step back into history with pictures of the Richland County landmark.
Darbey, a member of the board of trustees at the Reformatory, best known as the filming site for the hit movie "The Shawshank Redemption," was asked by Arcadia Publishing to create the regional history-based book.
“I enjoy history a lot, and once you get involved with this place (OSR) you can’t help yourself," Darbey said. "This is a remarkable building. The architecture, 155,000 inmates went through here, and the shift from reformatory to maximum security, and the administrators were fascinating.
"Everything about this building is really unique. We were only the second prison in the state. The Ohio Penitentiary was the first.”
Darbey taught English and theater in the Madison School District for 34 years. She was a psychology professor at North Central State College for 17 years.
After opening, the Ohio State Reformatory enjoyed a high success rate in reforming felons by educating and training for success outside of the cell walls, she said.
“Not only should the young inmates learn a trade to take them in a productive post-prison life, but education was equally vital to their success,” she notes in the book.
OSR featured a variety of training programs to help redirect convicted felons. The institution's inmates raised their own food and made their own clothes, cots and mattresses.
Darbey also notes furniture in the grand dining room was crafted by inmates.
“What they did not need here, they sold. With what little money they received from the state, they were self-sufficient," she said. "That’s what made it so remarkable.”
Darbey said creating the book helped her learn a lot about OSR. She had an eight-month deadline to collect all the photos and write the captions. She pulled information and images from old newspapers, books and the Internet.
“It was surprising to me how much was available in old newspapers. I spent a lot of time in the library and online. It was a lot of reading,” she said. “I spent time talking to our curator — everybody. The amount of research surprised me, but knowing the criteria Arcadia had, I knew that was what I had to do.”
Darbey said there is an infinite amount of history within the walls of the Ohio State Reformatory and once one learns one thing, it will spark an interest to peel back another layer of its history.
“As much history as you find out about this place, you realize how much you don’t know. I would think I knew every part of a certain part I was writing about, then I found out something else about it," she said. "The history is just so deep and in some ways layered ... That’s what I had fun with.”
The book describes how OSR's culture and customs changed with society.
“I think we, as a Reformatory, are a reflection of that,” Darbey said. “We moved toward maximum security when we needed to move in that direction. And it just kept moving and moving and moving.”
The book contains five chapters spanning the 94-year history of the prison including its architecture, administrators, inmate work and training, inmate fun, and Hollywood’s use of the landmark.