David Aaron Gray

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David Aaron Gray (Blog)

To Make it in Prison, it Helps to be a Former Banker: Second Acts in Life and the Art of the Comeback, cont'd

Posted by davidaarongray on January 29, 2013 at 1:15 AM

5) Andy Dufresne (Character from The Shawshank Redemption, 1994)


Andy Dufresne (pronounced doo-FRAYN) served as vice president of a Portland, Maine bank; good work for a man as young as him. He was also married to one of Portland’s prized beauty gems and chairman of the prestigious, Snowdon Hills Country Club.

Andy’s success was attributed to a supreme quantitative intellect, an analytical approach to problem solving and a remarkable ability to remain calm and patient during prolonged periods of stress.

When he wasn’t working, he often consumed himself with insular hobbies such as rock shaping and mastering various academic pursuits. Self-described as “honest and straight as an arrow.” Andy appeared to be the model American citizen.

However, not all was perfect in Andy’s personal life. Naturally, his busy professional duties at the bank along with the withdrawn nature to which he approached leisure time did not make him an ideal husband. He and his wife argued often and it was clear that he was pushing her away. Despite this, Andy never attempted to change his behavior; even after learning that his wife had begun an extra-marital affair with local golf pro Glenn Quentin.

Instead, after an argument, he would take to the bottle (Rosewood bourbon being his pick of poison) in order to suppress whatever guilt or sadness he harbored.


In late 1946, as Andy was sleeping off a night of heavy solitary drinking, the bullet-riddled bodies of Andy's wife and Glenn Quentin were found at the golf pro’s cabin. When questioning the Dufresne’s neighbors the police learned of an unusually “bitter confrontation” the two had the night before. Dufresne was presumably the only suspect with a motive and was therefore charged with the double homicide.

The evidence against him was purely circumstantial. Yet, when combined with an unsympathetic judge, an overzealous district attorney and Andy’s icy and remorseless looking appearance during cross-examination, he gets sentenced to "serve two life sentences back to back - one for each of his victims."

ABOVE: Andy Dufresne's reaction to the guilty verdict

He arrived at Maine’s Shawshank Prison in early 1947, just one of several convicted criminals being transferred from the local Portland jail. As the bus Andy is on drives through the prison gate and comes to a stop, the chief guard, Byron Hadley orders the chained-up men to get off and follow him passed a packed prison yard which is filled with heckling inmates overflowing with the kind of excitement that only comes in witnessing the arrival of a scared group of “fresh fish.”

Dressed conspicuously in his banker's suit, Andy appears tormented and terrified as he nervously walks into his new surroundings while surrounded by the shouting, taunting spectators who shake the fence.

The veteran inmates bet "smokes" on which of the new fish will emotionally breakdown first (as one always does after coming to grips with his new reality). One of the more respected veteran inmates named Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (who also has a reputation among fellow inmates as "the man who knows how to get things" ) puts his money on the fragile-looking Andy pointing him out as "that tall drink of water with a silver spoon up his a$$ at the end of the line.”

Red would later admit that he didn't think much of Andy the first time he laid eyes on him. “Looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over. That was my first impression of the man.”

Despite Andy’s impression as an easy candidate for emotional breakdown, Red ends up losing his bet when one of the other new prisoners unravels that night after lights out and cries like a baby until being dragged out of his cell by chief guard Hadley and beaten to death.

During Dufresne’s first two years at Shawshank he tried to keep to himself but was the frequent target of sexual abuse from a prison clique known as the “Sisters.”

After Andy almost gets thrown off the top of a roof for providing some rather risky unsolicited financial advice to Hadley, his prison life begins to improve slightly. Hadley realizes the usefulness of Andy’s sage financial skills and informs the Warden of Shawshank, Samuel Norton.

The self-righteous, scripture-quoting Warden rescues Andy from the demands of daily physical labor, transferring him to the prison library and guaranteeing his protection in exchange for the free use (or exploitation) of his financial expertise. Andy is even given some additional preferential treatment when the Warden (in defiance of his own prohibition regarding prisoner cell decor) allows Andy to keep a rather large and suggestive poster of actress Rita Hayworth hanging on one of Andy’s cell walls.

Meanwhile, Hadley personally puts an end to the Sisters’ reign of sexual assault on Andy when he physically paralyzes the gang’s leader, Boggs, during a brutal beating.

Andy is able to befriend some of the veteran prisoners (most notably, Red) due in part to his newly acquired status among the guards and Andy’s ability to modestly improve the prison library allowing inmates a wider selection of books and even a small collection of musical records.

However, Andy soon realizes that his obligations to the Warden go well beyond preparing tax returns for the prison staff. Norton uses Dufresne’s banking knowledge to start a money-laundering scheme to cover up the illegal contracting out of the prison’s army of slave laborers to various construction projects.

Jump ahead to 1966, when Dufresne and Red are informed by a young new prisoner named Tommy Williams of the story of a former cellmate at another prison bragging about his murder of Dufresne's wife and lover.

When Andy brings the news to the Warden in order to begin his appeal for a new trial, Norton quickly squashes his hopes out of fear that upon release from Shawshank, Andy could potentially inform authorities of the money-laundering scheme. Norton sends Dufresne a clear message that he will see through his lifetime sentence. To add a little emphasis on this point and to further secure Andy’s cooperation, Norton’s has Dufresne locked up in solitary confinement (aka “the hole” ) for two months and orders Hadley to murder Tommy Williams, leaving no witness to corroborate Dufresne’s innocence.

For the time being, Warden Norton feels confident he has whipped his slave banker back in-line.


Upon returning from the hole and learning of Tommy’s murder, Dufresne decides to implement an escape strategy he had been hatching since his first night in prison 19 years earlier.

As it turns out, the poster that the Warden allowed Andy to keep back in 1949 was, in fact, simply the most effective method to cover up a tunnel Andy was digging through the prison wall.

It took him almost 20 years and two replacement posters (one of Marilyn Monroe and the other of Raquel Welch) to create a tunnel long enough to get him to the prison’s sewer system and all he had to help him (besides his two dimensional female accomplices) was a small rock hammer he used to support his favorite hobby of shaping rocks into chess board pieces.

ABOVE: Andy's pin up girls

One night in 1966 while in the Warden's office and Norton’s back is turned (as he dials the combination to open his private wall safe), Andy conceals the Warden’s black accounting ledger and files in the back of his pants and hands replicas to Norton to place in the safe.

He wears Norton's black, shiny shoes back to his cell, and his prison clothes cover over one of Norton's finely pressed suits. As part of his well-executed plan, Andy places the incriminating accounting records (and the Warden's clothes) into a large, sealed plastic bag, tied to his ankle with rope, and squeezes into the tight tunnel shaft he created, leaving the confines of his cell for the last time.


When he emerges through the wall, he times lightning bolts flashing with deafening thunder to break holes in a sewer conduit, and then inches his way head-first through the raw sewage pipe. Good thing Andy was in a prison in New England and not California or Nevada. Had that been the case he might have had to wait another 19 years before a thunderstorm of the magnitude needed to complete his escape.



Andy crawls to freedom through five hundred yards of s--t-smelling foulness I can't even imagine. Or maybe I just don't want to. Five hundred yards... that's the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile.


He is triumphant as he emerges from sewer tube, now at a safe distance from the view of the prison night guards, and lands in a creek of fresh water.

In a display of intense emotional jubilation, Andy strips off his prison shirt in the middle of the creek and extends his arms up from his half-naked body to the sky - victorious and liberated.

ABOVE: The impossible becomes real and two decades of misery are reversed in a moment of pure bliss

The below is the scene the following morning during roll call at Shawshank (prisoner # 37927 is missing and it doesn't look like he'll be found anytime soon):

ABOVE: After ripping away the poster of Raquel Welch, Norton (center) along with Red (left) and Captain Hadley (right) are in a state of complete shock as they look through Andy's method of escape. 

"While Raquel was spilling her little secret," Andy mails the evidence of Norton’s prison scheme to The Portland Daily Bugle. Using the alias Randall Stevens (the name under the illegal accounts that Andy maintained for the Warden) Dufresne also visits a dozen Portland-area banks, withdrawing approximately $370,000 of the Warden’s money...severance pay for nineteen years.

Of course, that number might not seem like much, but adjusted for inflation, Andy stole the equivalent of $2,700,000. Not sure if they had IRAs for prison Wardens back in the sixties but either way, I’m pretty sure Norton was banking on that cash for his retirement.

Well, Warden Norton would check out of work (and life) a little earlier than he anticipated. After being publicly exposed for his crimes and with the authorities outside his office waiting to arrest him, Samuel Norton shoots himself through the head.

ABOVE: (Left) Andy's hiding spot for his rock hammer. He replaces Norton's Bible with this one as an extra gesture of "gotcha sucka! " Notice the page where the hammer opens to, page 1 of the chapter Exodus.  

(Right) Prison guards smile for the newspaper cameras when they find the only evidence associated with Andy's escape.

A few days later, Dufresne buries some money in a hayfield near Buxton, Maine, at a location only known to Red, then flees to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, where he operates a hotel with charter fishing services for guests.

Upon Red’s release in 1969, he discovers the money Andy left for him in the Buxton hayfield and travels to Mexico to reunite with his friend.

ABOVE: Final scene - Red quietly rejoices as he sees his friend Andy on the beach in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Categories: Top Comebacks of All Time

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