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 little family willing to own up to what they 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 Chvrolet coupe her father had given us as wedding present. I worked out exactly as I had planned, except I hadn’t planned on her stopping to pick up the neighbor woman’s infant son on their 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 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 even 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 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. I 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. He called them The three Ages of Jesus, and those pieces of sculpture are now in the parlor of a man who used to be governor of this state.
Or here’s a name you may remember if you grew up north of Massachusetts – Robert Alan Cote. In 1951 he tried to rob the First Mercantile Bank of Mechanic Falls, and the holdup turned into a bloodbath – six dead in the end, two of them members of the gang, three of them hostages, one of them a young state cop who put his head up at the wrong time and got a bullet in the eye. Cote had a penny collection. Naturally, they weren’t going to let him have it in here, but with a little help from his mother and a middleman who used to drive a laundry truck, I was able to get it for him. I told him, Bobby, you must be crazy, wanting to have a coin collection in a stone hotel full of thieves. He looked at me and smiled and said, I know where to keep them. They’ll be safe enough. Don’t you worry. And he was right. Bobby Cote died of a brain tumor in 1967, but that coin collection has never turned up.
I’ve gotten man chocolates on Valentine’s Day; I got three of those green milkshakes they serve at McDonald’s around St. Paddy’s Day for a crazy Irishman named O’Malley; I even arranged for a midnight showing of Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones for a party of twenty men who had pooled their resources to rent the films … although I ended up doing a week in solitary for that little escapade. It’s the risk you run when you’re the guy who can get it.
I’ve gotten reference books and fuck-books, joke novelties like handbuzzers and itching powder, and on more than one occasion I’ve seen that a long-timer has gotten a pair of panties from his wife or his girl friend … and I guess you’ll know what guys in here do with such items during the long nights when time draws like a blade. I don’t get all those things gratis, and for some items the price comes high. But I don’t do it just for the money; what good is money to me? I’m never going to own a Cadillac car or fly off to Jamaica for two weeks in February. I do it for the same reason that a good butcher will only sell you fresh meat: I got a reputation and I want to keep it. The only two things I refuse to handle are guns and heavy drugs. I won’t help anyone kill himself or anyone else. I have enough killing on my mind to last me a lifetime.
Yeah, I’m a regular Neiman-Marcus. And so when Andy Dufresne came to me in 1949 and asked if I could smuggle Rita Hayworth into the prison for him, I said it would be no problem at all. And it wasn’t.
When Andy came to Shawshank 1948, he was thirty years old. He was a short, neat little man with sandy hair and small, clever hands. He wore gold-rimmed spectacles. His fingernails were always clipped, and they were always clean. That’s a funny thing to remember about a man, I suppose, but it seems to sum Andy up for me. He always looked as if he should have been wearing a tie. On the outside he had been a vice-president in the trust department of a large Portland bank. Good work for a man as young as he was especially when you consider how conservative most banks are … and you have to multiply that conservatism by ten when you get up into New England, where folks don’t like to trust a man with their money unless he’s bald, limping, and constantly plucking at his pants to get his truss around straight. Andy was in for murdering his wife and her lover.
As I believe I have said, everyone in prison is an innocent man. Oh, they read that scripture the way those holy rollers on TV read the Book of Revelation. They were the victims of judges with hearts of stone and balls to match, or incompetent lawyers, or police frame-ups, or bad luck. They read the scripture, but you can see a different scripture in their faces. Most cons are a low sort, no good to themselves or anyone else, and their worst luck was that their mothers carried them to term.
In all my years at Shawshank, there have been less that ten men whom I believed when they told me they were innocent. Andy Dufresne was one of them, although I only became convinced of his innocence over a period of years. If I had been on that jury that heard his case in Portland Superior Court over six stormy weeks in 1947-48, I would have voted to convict, too.
(To be continued …)