During this past July, I was thrilled to be able to visit a site both historic and haunted, two of my favorite things.
The paranormal investigative group that I belong to, the Crawford County Illinois Ghost Hunters, along with the Ghost Research Society, were lucky enough to do a private investigation at the Ohio State Reformatory. You may think that you have never heard anything about this prison but if you have ever watched the movies “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Air Force One,” or “Tango and Cash” then you have visited it…. if only on screen. Although most renovations are kept historically accurate, one cell was repainted partially in gold paint for one of several music videos filmed there.
In September 1896, the first young offenders entered the doors that eventually were closed on December 31, 1990. The building is an imposing limestone facility meant to provide education and repentance to younger men before they became hardened criminals. In essence, it was to be a place of rebirth to keep them from a life of crime. At one time, the building was destined to be torn down but a dedicated group of people formed the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society to fight for the life of the building.
The preservation society sponsors tours to encourage interest in the facility while providing funds to continue renovations to bring parts of it back to its former “glory.” We were lucky enough to have as our tour guides a young couple named Robert and Holly Fulmer who had a great deal of knowledge about the place; much of it personal because Robert was the grandson of a former warden. They stayed on the premises after the tour but allowed the participants to roam at will and do a proper investigation while occasionally answering a question or adding more stories of those who lived there (or in some cases, died there).
It has become my belief that every place where there has been life, a bit of all who have entered that place remains. The longer the time spent there or the stronger the emotions while there; the more of the essence of those who dwelled there is retained. The pain, anger, remorse, hurt and regrets endure long after the physical bodies exited the building, a sort of spiritual DNA absorbed by the very walls. This seems to be true of any place and I would imagine that a prison would be more so. Just imagine the energy projected by the 154,000 inmates who passed through those cell blocks as well as the guards, wardens and their families and other staff who set foot on the grounds… they coated the area with emotions and memories of all types.
I mentioned earlier that the physical bodies of the inmates may have exited the building but not all left the grounds as there is a graveyard onsite that holds the bodies of prisoners who died while incarcerated. Their sparse graves are marked only with their identification number. Is it a far reach to imagine that not only those who died on the property but those who spent so much emotional time there might linger in spirit? Having some abilities, I can attest that there are those that do continue to go about their lives within those walls, even after the long-ago deaths of their bodies.
Personally, I caught a glimpse over my shoulder of what I thought was a member of the group filming our tour only to find he was too far behind me to be the man I had seen. Since he and I were taking up the rear I can only guess that it might have been the guard who was killed by an inmate just outside “solitary” where our walking tour started; forever on his rounds because he had not been relieved of duty. While walking the cellblocks of one section I heard the harsh catcalls of some of the prisoners who lingered within the barred confines of their cages and felt the emotions that generated that bitterness. Even after all these years, there were emotions that filled this huge building to the very top floor. Interestingly enough, some of the EVP sessions caught the sounds of children. Whether they were the children or grandchildren of the wardens or from the more distant past of the families of those in the Ohio regiments who trained for the civil war on those same grounds or the young ones who dwelled in the camps of the Native Americans of the area, there was apparently some happier energy left within those walls.
In doing research for this column, I tried to find information on how many prisoners returned to the Ohio State Reformatory after their original incarceration. I was not able to find that information but I ran across an interesting short film by a former inmate of another prison who had ideas on why prisoners could not stay out of prison. According to a gentleman who goes by the name of Big Herc, many prisoners have spent their time in prison by wasting it. There was no preparation for their eventual release. Instead of reprogramming their thoughts to change, they became conditioned to think of prison as their life and held onto negative emotions like bitterness, hurt and regrets. Big Herc likened it to a turbine engine that spins and builds up so much momentum that it can’t reverse itself to spin in the other direction. Luckily, it sounds as if Big Herc was a wise man who found a way to break the cycle of imprisonment and find a normal life (and I wish him well and hope that is so).
If you step back and look at the big picture, how many people find themselves incarcerated in a prison without bars because they hold on to negativity from their past? Fear, bitterness, hurt and regrets hold them from moving forward much like a pair of handcuffs or leg irons. The fact is that in many of our paranormal investigations the EVP sessions indicate those very emotions. There are some hauntings that may be caused by a positive emotion such as love and protectiveness, but it seems as if most of the ties that bind a ghostly spirit to a place are negative and futile. Because an issue was not resolved before death, their spirits chose to linger. They could not break the chains of those emotions and pass on.
Recently I read something that stuck in my mind that seems to explain this best. “Never be a prisoner of your past, it is just a lesson-not a life sentence.” (attributed to Jonathan Bergman). I leave you with the wish that you learn what you need to from your life and most especially what is worth holding on to and what needs to be released.
If you wish to find out more about the Ohio State Reformatory please visit: http://ohiostatereformatory.org/. I would like to thank them for an unforgettable visit and lesson in history.