The Shawshank Detention

Ya know that feeling when you’re incredibly bored and time just seems to inexplicably stand still? Well that’s pretty much what Mr Shawshank’s English lessons were like back in High School. Day after day we’d sit meticulously dissecting the entire literary works of Shakespeare and every single novel known to mankind. By the way, is it me? or do English teachers put more thought into a novel than the actual authors do? Because I’m pretty sure if you were to go and ask Jane Austen why she used Irony in Pride and Prejudice she’d probably say “Dude, I was like super bored and I needed the money, homes! Jeez!” Shawshank was without doubt, the most despised teacher in the place… probably because he was one of those teachers ya know, who hates children even though they’ve decided to devote their entire life to teaching them. “Old man Shawshank” we used to call him… because he was erm… old… and he was a man… we weren’t so good at making up nicknames at our school, it took us 6 weeks to think of that one and it still wasn’t even that good! On this particular day in his English lesson, we were presenting our book reports. “Ok Zach, it’s your turn to present your book report, I don’t need to remind you, it’s 40% of your final grade.” Not to be mean here but our good friend Zach wasn’t exactly the brightest bulb in the pack of 8, 12 watt light bulbs, in fact, if he was a light bulb, he’d probably be one of those energy saving ones that are incredibly dim and take forever to come on. He was actually the only Asian in the entire world to be bad at maths; his parents pretty much disowned him when he scored 6/10 on his adding and subtracting test back in Primary school. “So… I like decided to do my book report on ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle. I just wanna say… best book ever! Totally awesome! It like blew my freakin’ mind man! This caterpillar, like has a major case of the munchies and eats a whole bunch of stuff and then like gets wicked fat like my uncle Oshimoto after his divorce… except the caterpillar didn’t get diabetes… yeah.” “Thank you for that enthralling presentation Zach” remarked Mr Shawshank sarcastically. As Zach went to sit down he did a little fist pump and whispered the words “nailed it!” “Now before you all go off to lunch like a bunch of ravenous beasts, I just wanted to remind you that your English literature exam is next week, not that any of you have got a hope in hell of passing it, so in the words of Gandalf the grey, YOU SHALL NOT PASS! Off you go then.” Yep, Mr Shawshank was renowned for his inspirational speeches. I think Braveheart would have been a vastly different movie had Mr Shawshank have given that speech instead of Mel Gibson.

It was a beautiful summer’s day and knowing that we wouldn’t have to endure another second of Old man Shawshank made it all the more wonderful. After an epic food fight in the cafeteria which was sparked by an accusation that Jessica Reynolds is a massive bitch; we all went outside and relaxed on the school field and enjoyed the warmth from this big bright yellow thing in the sky… Yeah we don’t erm… we don’t really have a word for it in the UK as we hardly ever… ya know… see it. Apart from that, everything was pretty ordinary. The Emos were shouting at a year 7 who had jokingly told them “cheer up, it might never happen”, the Goths were huddled under the bike shed trying to keep out of the light, the Greasers were seeing who could do the best impression of the fonz by saying “Ay!” continuously; and then there was us. I’d like to think we were the cool kids. “Can anyone answer this question?” asked Tom “In Star Wars episode 4, A New hope, when Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader are duelling on the Death star, their light sabres inexplicably change colour… what’s up with that? I mean light sabres don’t just change colour! It’s physically impossible!” As Tom discussed the implausibility of a light sabre that changes colour, we were abruptly interrupted by the jocks. Unlike American Jocks, British jocks speak incredibly posh. “Hey do you pussys wanna come give us a game of football? Or soccer as those crazy yanks call it, Jocks against the nerds” “erm… I think you’re mistaken, we’re not the nerds” I stated, timidly. “Haha yeah right, and Celine Dion isn’t just the most wonderful singer ever!” His friends all gave him a strange look as he unintentionally confessed to his Celine Dion obsession. “Err I meant… Jay Z.” They all nodded and agreed “Bloody good rapper that man! Bloody good!” After a little more persuasion with a side of peer pressure, we reluctantly agreed to play them.

I should just tell you that, none of us were particularly sporty; I mean we were often the subject of ridicule in PE because of our distinct lack of athleticism and our ability to get whacked in the face with a variety of balls… SPORTS BALLS! SPORTS BALLS! The pitch was reasonably small which was a relief because it meant less running around; and to be honest I get tired from just grating cheese. The jocks had bullied, or to use their term “employed”, four year 7’s into being goal posts. Yeah, It didn’t really work; every so often the game would have to be momentarily halted while a couple of jocks went to retrieve one of them that had run away, eventually the retrieval of the goal posts became a game in itself, although by the end of term we weren’t allowed to do this anymore as the year 7’s had unionised. After about 10 minutes, we were already losing 10 – 0 and it became abundantly clear that we were only there to make the jocks look good in front of the popular girls, who were watching from the sidelines. I think the real mistake though was putting Tom in goal, I mean he was still going on about the whole light sabre changing colour thing, so he had little interest in anything else. Tired of being treated like a loser, I gathered up our team of nerds and gave them a truly inspirational and uplifting speech… it was erm… it was the speech from that movie 300, I know, a bit OTT but I think it worked, I mean I saw a hatred in Billy’s eyes I haven’t seen since he found out George Lucas was going to make even more edits to the Star Wars movies. As we broke from our huddle, determined to kick some ass Spartan style, we looked around and saw that the jocks were sitting on the sidelines flirting with the popular girls, which meant there goal was wide open! This was it! Quickly taking the ball down to the opposite end of the pitch, I stopped just in front of their goal and set myself for a blank range shot. Out of nerdy frustration, I kicked the ball as hard as I could towards their goal and as I did, time seemed to slow right down! By the way watching a year 7 pretending to be a goal post and flinching in slow motion is so funny! I’d done it! I’d scored a goal! The fact that the opposing team had already stopped playing wasn’t important, I had scored a goal! My first one ever! In the euphoria, I pulled my shirt over my head and slid on my knees, as if I’d scored in the world cup final; but all of a sudden I was abruptly brought back to reality with the sound of a “smash!” As I slowly pulled my shirt back from over my head, dreading what I should find, I was faced with a terrible sight. One broken window, and not just any broken window, no no, the classroom window of one Reginald C. Shawshank. My stomach sank. Of all the windows in all the school I had to break his! I mean there was a greenhouse right next to it why couldn’t I have hit that? They’re infamous for getting smashed, it’s like they have a magnetic pull on any ball within a 10 foot radius. By now, having witnessed what had happened, everybody was whistling and laughing hysterically, yeah it’s always funnier when it’s not happening to you isn’t it?! Contemplating my impending doom from the wrath of Mr Shawshank, I wondered how long it would take me to get out of the country and adopt a new life in Mexico as Jose Doritos a trumpet player in a mariachi band.
“I’m so dead Tom! What am I gonna do?”
“Don’t worry mate we’re not gonna let you take all the blame for this”
“What? Really? You’d… do that for me?”
“Of course, that’s what friends do, besides it’s not like he can punish all of us is it?”
All of a sudden Shawshank came storming outside in an epic rage, yelling out “Who did this?! Who did this?!” My heart began racing ever faster. As he got closer it appeared that he had coffee all down his shirt, my heart rate tripled! “Who kicked that ball? Eh? Who kicked it and broke my window, knocking my coffee over?!” As if breaking his window wasn’t enough, I also ruined his shirt and most likely broke his coffee mug… although in fairness it was one of those “world’s greatest teacher” mugs and to be honest I don’t think it was entirely deserved, I mean it was probably a gift to himself. “Well? who did it then?!” As he was rapidly getting angrier, I realised confessing was the right thing to do, but before I had the chance, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen happened; one after another my friends shouted out,
“I did it” then another one
“I did it” and another
“no, I did it sir!”
“No sir, I did it”
“I did it”
“I’m Spartacus… I mean, I did it!”
I have to say I did kinda feel bad that they were taking the blame on my behalf but… I guess I was ok with it.
“Oh, so you all think this is a big joke do you? Well let’s see if you’re still laughing when you spend the rest of the afternoon in isolation”
“He did it!” said Tom, rapidly pointing at me “Thanks Tom”
“Is that true?” asked Shawshank.
“Yes” I said apprehensively. “But it was a complete accident, I would never intentionally break a window… well unless there was like… a bear or… a Kardashian chasing me and I needed to escape, then I might… but apart from that I would never break a window.”
“The fact that you’ve broken my window is bad enough, but the fact that you would get your friends to take the blame is absolutely disgraceful! I tell you, I’ve seen some things in my time but never have I seen anything as despicable as that!” As much as I wanted to fight him, I knew he was right. “Well, you can come with me and spend the rest of the day in detention!” Accepting my punishment, we made our way inside. The students, who had laughed so hysterically just moments ago, now lowered their heads in respect as I was taken away.

Being a bonafied teacher’s pet and School council official, this was my first ever visit to detention. I’d heard stories of what it was like but had never experienced it; I kinda wanted to keep it that way to be honest; as it was common knowledge that we had some of the most badass kids in the region go to our school, who practically spent most of their school lives in detention. The worst most badass kid of all was Barry Jacobs. Everybody called him Red for some reason, never knew why; like I said… we weren’t so good at nicknames. He was infamous throughout the school ever since he duct taped the French exchange student to the ceiling of the cafeteria; he was there for 3 days before anyone noticed him… how Barry got him up there is anyone’s guess, but the only way we could get him back down again was by throwing the awful cafeteria food at him. By the end, whoever could get him down won an all expenses paid trip to Vegas, anyway I digress. We made our way through the winding corridors towards the very end of the school, where very few dared to venture. A few years ago there was this year 8 who went down there because he was lost… he was never heard of again… yep true story… although I think he may have just transferred to a different school… either way super scary stuff right?! We suddenly turned into a narrow dark corridor, with a door at the end of it. Above the door was a sign reading, “Give up hope, all ye who enter.” It was written in colourful decorative font and sprinkled with glitter, which I thought was a nice touch. As we got closer, the door became more and more intimidating… like how I would imagine walking up to Simon Cowell is like… except the scary door wouldn’t call you names and hurt your feelings. Despite how scary the door was, I got the feeling it wouldn’t come close to the horrors that waited for me on the other side of it. Either way, I was about to find out. Shawshank placed a colossal key into the lock and twisted it 90 degrees to the left. Now unlocked, he slowly turned the handle of the door. My heart was racing! All I could think about was what those ASBO teens would do to a smartly dressed, captain of the knitting team kid like me! I began to panic, and not the “OMG! The Jonas Brothers are coming to town!” kind of panic. With the handle turned all the way, Shawshank slowly opened the door… yeah he was old, so everything was in slow motion. The suspense made things even worse. My mind replayed every horrifying scenario over and over again and as it did, my panic increased. All of a sudden the door flung open, and as it did I shut my eyes tight and shouted “Please don’t hurt me!!” There was an awkward pause. “Go take a seat Paul” said Mr Shawshank. Still in my ninja stance, I opened my eyes and saw five inmates sitting at various desks peering back at me. “Go take a seat!” repeated Mr Shawshank. I hesitantly entered the room, and as I was closely observed by the on looking criminals, I thought to myself “I guess this is how Lindsay Lohan must have felt when she was in prison.” The room was completely devoid of colour and the bars on the windows allowed very little light to enter. It was as if they’d asked the decorators “Just give us the Guantanimo bay look”. Taking my seat, still under the close watch of the felons, Mr Shawshank handed me ten pieces of lined paper.
“On this paper, front and back, I want you to write the words, Thou shalt not break Mr Shawshank’s window, and if you haven’t done that by the time I get back, then may God have mercy upon your soul.”
“Yes Sir… Once again I’d just like to say I’m really sorry for what happened and I… wait, did you just say when you get back?”
“I have a class to teach now so you’re going to be on your own for a while”
“I’m sorry what? No, you can’t leave me alone with these crazy people!”
Caring very little for my safety, Mr Shawshank walked out the door, locking it behind him, “Do you have any idea what they’ll do to me!” I shouted, hoping he would hear. The others heard though and were now giving me hateful looks from every direction. There was an extremely awkward silence.
“Hey… how ya doin? by the way… er when I said crazy people, I meant… ya know like in the sense when someone does something hilarious and then someone else says oh Jim you are one crazy person … yeah…I mean look at that Brittany Spears… she’s super crazy! She shaved all of her hair off for a joke, so ya know, being crazy is great… at least I think she did it for a joke” Realising I was just making the situation worse; I decided to stop talking and commence with writing my lines. All of a sudden though, I was convinced I had already started to lose my mind when I heard Hollywood legend, Morgan Freeman’s voice from behind me.

“I must admit I didn’t think much of Paul the first time I laid eyes on him”
As I looked back over my shoulder, I saw an insanely huge tough guy looking back at me.
“I’m sorry?” I asked nervously.
“I’m just narrating” said the boy, and then immediately began talking like Morgan Freeman again. “Yep, Paul seemed like the kind of fella who would go see a Romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and laugh at every terrible gag… and then months later, go buy it on DVD just so he could laugh at it again.”

As I sat there, I couldn’t help but wonder two things. Firstly, why does this guy behind me talk like Morgan Freeman and secondly how on Earth did he know about my love for romantic comedies?

“So what are you in for friend?” he asked still sounding like Morgan Freeman.
“I… er…I broke Mr Shawshank’s classroom window.” I replied in fear.
“That sure was mighty brave of you sonny, Old man Shawshank is the meanest son of a bitch who ever walked these halls”
“No I didn’t mean to do it, it was a complete accident!”
“That’s what they all say… only innocent men in detention. Take old Jim there…” he pointed to a fellow inmate sitting by the window, “why, he’s been here near off 2 months now”
“2 months!” I exclaimed.
“Caught accidentally writin’ in math books… accidentally changing the C to a P wherever it said Cubic centimetre… and Joanna over there… she got caught accidentally smoking behind the bike sheds”
“So what are you in for?” I asked nervously.

One of the detentionees began playing a harmonica while another sang the blues.

“Well that’s somewhat of a long story now friend, but if I were to give you some advice, it would be to think carefully before you decide to duct tape the foreign exchange student to the ceiling of the cafeteria… yes sir… I guess you could say I’m the only guilty man in detention”
“Wait, I know you! You’re Barry Jacobs! The most badass guy to ever come to this school!”
“In here, they call me Red.”
“Just out of curiosity…why do they call you Red?”
“I’m a big fan of Robert Redford”
“Ah so that’s where it comes from…”

The minutes slowly ticked by and at one moment while I stared vacantly at the clock, I could have sworn I saw the minute hand go backwards. It seemed like the rules of space and time didn’t apply to the detention room, as though it was separate from the rest of the universe. Meanwhile, the guilt of my crime seemed to increase with every agonizing line I wrote. The sad, depressing sound of the harmonica had by now stopped and all that remained was an eerie silence that seemed painful and unnerving. Suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of my phone from inside my school bag… yeah this er… this is kind of embarrassing as my ring tone was that incredibly terrible song Friday by Rebecca Black… don’t ask me why I had it as my ring tone… I was young and foolish. As I hurried to find it and switch it off, Red began narrating again…

“I have no idea to this day what that lady was singin’ about. Truth is I don’t wanna know, some things are better left unsaid. I’d like to think she was singing about something so beautiful, that it can’t be expressed in words…”

After furiously emptying the contents of my bag all over the detention room floor, most of which was my Bruce Willis the musical script I’d been working on, I finally managed to answer it. It was Tom. “Hey man look out the window!”

Looking out of the window between the bars, I saw my friends gathered around holding placards and banners saying “Free Nelson Mandela!” “You missed an awesome Art lesson!” shouted Tom from outside, “We made these banners! And Mrs Bloom bought us all Ice cream! It was awesome! We gotta go now man we’re late for Biology, we’re finally gonna find out where babies come from!” “I’d like to bet Chuck Norris is somehow involved” speculated Zach “Learning is awesome!” declared Tom and then they all turned and skipped off merrily towards Biology.

“I remember when I had friends” said Red. “Life’s a lot easier when you’ve got someone to depend on”
“I’m very lucky really… they might seem weird to some, but I think the world of them… they actually took the blame for breaking the window, I don’t know how many friends would do that… not many.”
“I’d like to think if things had been different I might have a best friend now or have a girlfriend I could hold hands with and take to the movies. Truth is I ain’t proud of the person I am, there’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret for what I done over the years.” Said Red
“Then why do you do it?”
“Well I guess you could say I’m institutionalized, these walls are funny; first you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes you get so you depend on them, I decided then, I’m not much cut out for the outside world“
“What?! But you’ll miss out on so much! Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 is coming out soon! You can’t miss that it’s gonna be freaking awesome!” yeah it wasn’t er… it wasn’t that great, I think those chipmunks got too arrogant after the success of the first film and were then like “dude! Cannot be fudged to do another kids film, I got a guest spot on Two and a half men for cryin’ out loud!” I read somewhere that Alvin was dating Paris Hilton… I know right, who hasn’t she dated!

“Ya know there’s more to life than just this" I said “… I mean you’re young, you haven’t given life a chance yet… there’s so much to live for… like the feeling of accomplishment when you’ve completed a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of a clear blue sky or the thrill of riding the teacups at Disneyland or the excitement of waiting in line to see the latest terrible Meg Ryan film.” I know what you’re thinking… how does that Meg Ryan still manage to find work?
“Well I’m not sure about any of those things but I appreciate the sentiment friend, I guess we all have our own path to tread in life, some are more effeminate than others…” I don’t know what he was implying there. “I guess my path is unclear right now, maybe something or someone will show up unexpectedly and tear down these walls and set me free..”

Listening to Red’s story, I realised that these people weren’t crazy lowlife degenerates, but were in fact just lost, misunderstood individuals who only wanted to be loved. In fact the guilt of wrongfully judging these people was far worse than that guilt I had for the broken window, I mean at least I didn’t hurt the window’s feelings, or maybe I did, do windows have emotions? You don’t often see a window on one of those accident claim adverts on TV talking about its harrowing tale “I were mindin’ me own business one day when all of a sudden a football came and hit me breaking me into to several pieces. So I went to accident claim lawyers for you and they awarded me £10,000 in compensation, I’m off to Ibiza next week”

As the hours passed by, Red and I swapped stories and discussed the awesomeness of Robert Redford; he even helped me out with my lines as he could forge anyone’s handwriting like in that movie with Matt Damon where he can forge anyone’s handwriting. When Shawshank returned he seemed to be somewhat surprised to see that those 10 pieces of paper he had handed me just 3 hours earlier were now completely covered in words. “Well Paul, I hope you learnt your lesson”
“I certainly did Mr Shawshank; never again will I harm another window”
“Be sure you don’t! Or mark my words boy, you shall be back in here faster than you’ll be able to blink."

As I got up to leave, I turned and took one last look at Red. He nodded at me in an affectionate way and I nodded back and gave a friendly wink… but I can’t really wink properly so I basically looked like a I was having some seizure… kinda ruined the moment really.

Walking back through those corridors away from the detention room, none of it felt as foreboding as it had before, I guess realizing the demons that dwelt within weren’t really as demonic as I had originally thought. As I made my way down towards the exit, students kept high fiving me and patting me on the back, saying things like “Mate, you are the best person who ever lived and you are a true hero and you are a truly awesome individual and you make me proud to go to the same school as you." Ok that’s not quite what they said but it was along those lines. either way I realised breaking Old man Shawshank’s window made me somewhat of a hero among the students, I guess you could say I’d become a badass… or not, it’s up to you. Making my way through the crowd of adoring fans, yeah I said it, I saw my friends gingerly approach me. They looked pale and nauseas, as if they’d seen Liza Manelli run naked through the school.

“You ok guys?” I asked.
“We found out where babies come from… it was horrifying! It was like that movie Alien but much worse! There was blood everywhere and there was this thing called a vagina… What the hell is a vagina!! Zach won’t go within 5 feet of a girl now out of fear of getting her pregnant, excuse me I need to go throw up.”
I’d have gone with them for emotional support but all I could think about was going outside and feeling the cool summer breeze against my face again.

As I stepped outside, the light suddenly engulfed me in a warm embrace and as my eyes gradually adjusted to the brilliance of the daylight, everything seemed exponentially more wonderful than ever before. The majestic birds soared high above, in the beautiful blue sky, free and without care. Even the overflowing dumpster that was a hang out for a local cat gang had an air of beauty about it. Those three hours I spent in Detention gave me a whole new outlook on life. I guess it’s only when something has been taken away that we realise how much we truly appreciate it, in this case it was freedom…

As I stood looking up at the sky, embracing the moment, a football rolled towards me and stopped at my feet.
“Oi kick us our ball back!” shouted a year 7 from across the teacher’s car park.
“Yes, my young fellow! Yes I shall! For this, is a wonderful summer’s day and no child should be deprived of their beloved sports ball” I shouted back with exuberant joy.
“Whatever weirdo” the boy replied.

In the euphoria of being a free man again I kicked the ball as hard as I could into the air. It soared on high for just a moment and flew with those beautiful birds as if it was one of them, alas however gravity intervened and the ball came racing back down to Earth… right on top of a Peugeot 206. The crunch of the windscreen was followed by the deafening sound of the car alarm. I bet you can’t guess whose car it was can you?

“HIIIICKKKSSSSON!!” shouted Shawshank.

“Er… I thought I saw a bear…

He stared at me with a menacing eye and said nothing.

“…detention, I know”

… I hate football…

The Shawshank Detention

Paul Hickson

Norwich, United Kingdom

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Artist's Description

A little homage to one of the greatest films ever made, The Shawshank Redemption.

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