30 Minutes with “Patient X”
By Tom L.June 5, 2013
Whether I’m out on tours, a ghost hunt, or if I’m talking with a volunteer at the Ohio State Reformatory, sometimes the topic of “how did you get started volunteering here” comes up. My story is a lot different than most. Its different and I had no idea that morning when I got up that the patient I met at work would start me on a new hobby.
So here it goes.
At my real jobs, I have two altogether, I work in Orthopedic Physical Therapy and in Sports Medicine. I am the real life punch line of “going to school for eight years and not being called doctor”, from the movie Tommy Boy starring Chris Farley. If I’m scheduled to work in the post-operative unit in the mornings I’m used to seeing total joint replacements of knees, shoulders, and hips, and sometimes back fusions. There’s whole medical potpourri of diagnoses in the hospital all waiting to be transitioned to their respective home, assisted living facility, rehabilitation unit at a nearby hospital or a skilled nursing facility. When I work with these people I have no idea who there are when I get there, where they’re from and what they do for a living. This particular morning was just like every other one but one patient I ended up working with seemed to help me with breaking the ice when I arrived.
When you go into a patient’s room its like going to someone’s home. You knock on the door and ask if you can come in and you introduce yourself to the patient and to the family and what department you work in. You’re a stranger to them. When I arrived in this gentleman’s room he had a back brace on under his t-shirt and he was sitting up in his chair. The shirt he had on read “Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield, OH”. Immediately my ice breaking opportunity was there to start off the conversation, “Please tell me you were a prison guard because if you’re a paroled prisoner or wanted by the FBI this is going to turn out very badly for me”. He smiled and told me that he often takes his daughters to Mansfield to go on ghost hunts since his kids are in college and are away from home. He told me that its a way they can spend some family time together and since his kids are used to staying up late in school, going on a ghost hunt and being up until 5am was nothing for them. He told me the pictures he’s taken, the people he’s met and the historical information of the OSR building. I knew that OSR was used in Shawshank but I never been there, never been on a ghost hunt and didn’t know you could volunteer there.
When I left work that night I Googled “Ohio State Reformatory” on the internet and looked at the information on the website and looked at videos on youtube.com and Facebook. About a month later I went to my first meeting and didn’t know what to expect.
On April 15, 2012 OSR had a meeting for first time volunteers. The first person who went to volunteer that I met there was Barb from Columbus. She had done ghost hunts at the Bizman Building in Mansfield and helped with the clean-up at OSR back in February that year. My primary intensions of volunteering was just learning the history of the building, the inmate accounts and anything I could learn about the hollywood movies that were shot there. The best part I knew about volunteering in Mansfield was that I knew there was no way that I could bump into any of my patients’ or coworkers’ from work and it could be my “leisure time” away from work and help de-stress.
Mary and Paul, the administrators at OSR, introduced themselves and talked about the different opportunities you could have volunteering there and where you could start. Initially I signed up to work in the Archives Department with Shannon, the Sunday Tours with Ron and Ghost Walks with Becky. I knew nothing about ghost hunts or anything about ghosts. I had never seen Ghost Adventurers, Ghost Stories, Paranormal State, etc. on television so I was satisfied with what I had signed up for.
A few weeks later I came into OSR to my first Archives meeting with Shannon. Myself, Barb and Joe, a former police officer now volunteer at OSR, all showed up to learn about Archives. Shannon showed us some of the artifacts in the area such as old medical records from the 30’s and 40’s, old shanks, an OSR fire helmet and an old set of belly chains and leg shackles. As we were viewing the artifacts I told Shannon that I wish we could visit the cemetery at OSR but it was on state property and couldn’t view any of the tombstones up close. After I told her this she told me to put on some white gloves and go into a box and pull out the top sheet of paper. It was an old diagram of the prison cemetery with the names of all the inmates who were buried at OSR and their families did not claim the bodies. I was blown away. Up until then I was told that we didn’t know who was buried out there in the cemetery but with the map now available we could identify everyone buried. Ohh the stories I would learn and information I would attain later that year from the old gal.
Afterwards Shannon took us up to the attic on the West Cell Block. This had been the first time I had gone up to that room. When we were there she showed us drawings on the walls, inmate names, prisoner numbers, just a lot of graffiti from inmates in the 1920’s up to the 1970’s and it looked like they just wrote their names on the walls with pencil a few hours before but it had actually been up there for the past 90 years! I was immediately hooked on what else I could find out about OSR historically. Since I’ve been helping with Archives, Ghost Walks, Tours and now Ghost Hunts with Scott, my goal every time I go to OSR is to find out one new thing about OSR that I didn’t know before to help cure my urge for knowledge of the building.
The volunteers that I work with have helped me with all of the information I’ve received but most of all are the former prisoners and guards that I have spoken to when they come back to OSR. To hear about their experiences from them firsthand is something that you cannot read in a book or watch on television. Sometimes I feel bad about asking about their experiences here if they were an inmate because I don’t want to focus on the negative of their past but hearing their story is very sobering. The rest as they say is history. No pun intended.
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