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What if Shawshank Prison Had a Repair for Concrete and Pipe Corrosion?

Chris Banks July 11, 2022
prison warden discovers a hole in concrete wall

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

One of many memorable quotes uttered by prisoner Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, in the 1994 iconic film “Shawshank Redemption” about human suffering, bonding, and triumph. The architect of the suffering at the fictional 1940’s Shawshank State Prison in New England was Warden Samuel Norton. His own crimes perhaps far outweighing any of the men he tormented in the film; bribery, corruption, prisoner abuse, embezzlement, and murder to name a few. Yet, his biggest crime may be one the movie’s plot didn’t focus on at all; the deferred and neglected maintenance of the aging and crumbling prison itself.

In fact, the writers of the film spent a great deal of time deciding whether Red’s famous quote should be replaced with: “Get busy maintaining, or get busy paying” [Editor’s note: there is no truth to that statement whatsoever, but wise wisdom to consider for every facility owner.]

In the movie, the escape of prisoner Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, thrust the Warden’s crimes into the public spotlight. But how long could Warden Norton have continued his crimes had Andy not tunneled out from behind the prison walls? This is an unanswerable question, but Andy did write prolific and numerous letters to public figures begging for funds to upgrade and run his prison library and he could have extended his writing to law enforcement. Ultimately, it can be argued that the Warden’s blatant disregard for facility maintenance made Andy’s escape, one tiny piece of crumbling cell wall at a time, inevitable.

Nothing sparks a better discussion than a good “what if” scenario on potential movie outcomes, so let’s have a little fun with this topic: what if Warden Norton had found and utilized the right maintenance professionals and the right products before Andy’s escape; could Andy’s escape have been prevented?

Deferring your maintenance is generally not a good idea and leads to more costly solutions later


First, let’s discuss deferred maintenance in general a bit.

People (and institutions or companies) have a tendency to buy more than they can maintain. They make annual and regular choices about how much money to spend, or not spend, on preventative and corrective maintenance.

  • For some, it’s a conscious choice, deciding not to spend dollars today when maintenance comes due. For example, the U.S. Department of Defense regularly fails to spend about 20-25% of its facility needs annually, kicking the can down the road in any given year.
  • For others, ignorance is bliss – like not knowing when to change the oil on your car, or to rotate the tires. It costs less if you just ignore it! Car manufacturers combat ignorance with lights on the dash for nearly everything now – telling owners that it is time to do “X” at the arrival of some mileage or time milestone. Unfortunately, those lights don’t exist for buildings or plants.
  • One other “in between” category of people exists: the “hopefully ignorant.” These people know that they need to do maintenance, intentionally ignore it, and hope for the best.

While the movie is silent on which category Warden Norton was, let’s assume he’s in the last category, as he was probably finding ways to line his pockets with Shawshank Prison’s maintenance budget. For most, the decision to defer maintenance costs more in the long run due to shorter equipment lifespans, unsafe working conditions, and inefficient operations. In Warden Norton’s case, the decision to ignore or defer his maintenance cost him much more, as seen in this moment when he discovers Andy Dufresne’s escape route hidden behind a poster of actress Rita Hayworth.


What critical areas of preventative facility maintenance did the Warden ignore?

Is there a mason in the house?


Warden Norton didn’t know how to recognize the signs of pending failure in concrete, but Andy did, and he knew how to exploit them by transporting small bits of chipped away cell wall out into the prison yard in the ankle cuffs of his pants. ] Trained professionals would have spotted those problems and recommended fixes to extend the life and integrity of Andy’s prison cell.

Repairing the concrete in Andy’s cell requires solutions to three key problems:

  1. Concrete doesn’t stick to pre-existing concrete, it requires innovative solutions
  2. Vertical wall and overhead concrete repairs are very difficult to execute
  3. Overcrowded prisons require fast repairs that cure quickly

What would the BIG solution be?

Our technicians could have used a “Belzona 4000” series epoxy to repair existing concrete, including those on a vertical surface, with full curing of the product in about 48 hours. Following this repair, the concrete would have had compressive and tensile strength greater than the original concrete. If Andy’s cell had been repaired using these methods, his tunnel to freedom would have never come to fruition.

In this alternative “Belzona 4000” ending, Andy remains in his drab prison garb, still executing Warden Norton’s nefarious orders and only dreaming of a redemption that never comes.


Can we talk about the condition of those pipes?

Warden Norton probably never fully realized that his facility was “one adventurous prisoner with a rock” away from having a complete failure of its water and waste pipes. Andy famously creates a man-sized hole into a large sewer drain pipe, one that used to be thick cast iron, with nothing more than that rock and his sheer will.


If Warden Norton was ignoring maintenance of concrete walls in plain sight of everyone at the prison, including visitors and guards, he was definitely ignoring the maintenance of pipes hidden behind the walls of voids and mechanical spaces. That pipe in fictional Shawshank Prison probably looked a little bit like this very real version…

example of severly corroded pipe

Pipes like these can be found in old cities and facilities everywhere. We know because we see them frequently, with some hanging on by the thinnest of threads, just waiting to fail. Just as Andy tells Red “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies,” there is hope for owners with pipes like those at Shawshank. You can actually fix these pipes and avoid becoming the duped and disgraced “Warden Norton” at your own company.

Here’s how it’s done:

  • The first step is to use Belzona 1000 series paste-grade epoxies to fill in the pitted metal, restoring some of the weak points in the wall thickness.
  • From there, experienced professionals can apply Belzona Super Wrap II, a system consisting of carbon fiber cloth and resin that when cured, can restore the pipe to ASME PCC-2 standards and will look like this:

example of pipe wrap repair

With the combination of Belzona 1000 series and Belzona Super Wrap II, Andy Dufresne would need professional grade power tools to penetrate that pipe and escape, none of which could be hidden in a copy of the prison-issued Bible.

Neither the rock Andy used to smash a hole in the pipe nor his famous rock hammer would have cut the mustard.

On the bright side, it would have saved him from crawling through human waste for over a half mile.

All of this is a great metaphor on how preventative and corrective maintenance can help keep every company from landing in deep…infrastructure failures.


The BIG Takeaway

Before we let you “get away”, remember these important highlights:

  • Deferring your maintenance is generally not a good idea and leads to more costly solutions later and greater negative impacts on your operational readiness.
  • If you need to repair, protect, or improve anything made of metal, concrete, or rubber, we probably have a solution to make your problem go away (including boats, so Andy, if you are reading this on the beach in Zihuatanejo, give us a call…)
  • If Banks Industrial Group had responded to the call to upgrade the failing prison conditions using Belzona products, Andy Dufresne would definitely still be in his cell. Sorry Andy.

For more about Banks Industrial Group or Belzona, please contact us.