By Teresa Conrick
In 1994,when I was pregnant with my second child, a film called, "The Shawshank Redemption," came out. Being pregnant, tending to my beautiful, toddler Megan, and working part-time, teaching in a psychiatric hospital demanded my attention and I missed this film. It wasn't until around 1999 that I happened to catch it one night on TBS and it was exactly what I needed, so I am here to share my thoughts and recommend that you watch it - now - as it is exactly what our community needs.
In 1999, my world had changed drastically since five years prior. Megan had lost skills, including speech, had become distant, sad, crying and physically ill with ear infections, rashes, fevers, vomiting, nosebleeds, reflux, and diarrhea more times than I could count. She was to then be diagnosed with autism in 1995. Since I did work in a psychiatric hospital and had finished my masters in Special Education, I had an inkling of what autism was but no experience except for "Rainman" and a brief observation of a male, nonverbal teen, hospitalized for a "medication adjustment."
As I watched Shawshank that first time, I became a huge fan. Here was an atypical movie for me. It had no romance, no great costumes, no catchy music. What it did have was a story that I could identify with and one that I relate to now more than ever, especially as the innocent Andy Wakefield, like our hero, Andy Dufresne is unfairly judged and "imprisoned."
Andy in the movie has been tried on circumstantial evidence and found guilty of killing his wife and her lover. He is then shipped off to Shawshank Prison where he must deal with other prisoners, hatred, despair, injustice and corruption in the form of the Warden and some of the guards. Andy is innocent and knows it but he must deal with prison life and he does so with intelligence and hope. His relationships, especially with Red, another prisoner who trusts Andy and sees him as different than all of the prisoners at Shawshank, is a good one - "He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn't normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place. Yeah, I think it would be fair to say... I liked Andy from the start." Over nineteen years, the two would become close friends.
The Warden was a cruel, selfish and evil man. He put Andy to work for nineteen years as his personal accountant, taking money from the prison and "laundering" it. He also was responsible for a young prisoner's death, a lad who knew Andy was innocent and could identify the real killer, a psychopathic prisoner who confessed haughtily to the young lad of the killings. Andy went with his evidence of innocence to the Warden and because this information would release Andy, would get him out of Shawshank and out of the Warden's "laundering" job, the lad was killed and Andy was punished more for even thinking of revealing the truth of his innocence and the identity of the real criminal. The Warden was not about to let Andy or anyone get in the way of his money scheme and the power he held over Shawshank and the prisoners.
Unknown to anyone, Andy, being the smart and patient prisoner that he was, began a methodical and determined escape out of Shawshank. He discovered that the wall in his small jail could crumble so he had Red get him a rock hammer and he began the task of tunneling out of his unjustified hell under a poster of first, Rita Heyworth and eventually of Raquel Welsh as the years and his tunnel grew.
One day, Andy was able to access the prison speakers and played Canzonetta sull'aria from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro to all the prisoners who had not heard any music in years.
If you haven't figured it out, I am comparing the two Andys because I see Andy as our Andy, Andy Wakefield, and that beautiful music was the research that he has done and continues to do showing how our children can be helped from their pain and suffering -- it is music that can not be taken away from ones memory, even though the Warden pounds on the door and demands that Andy "turn it off".
Andy of course, both of them, gets in trouble for sharing the music. In the film, Andy goes on to explain, after his time "in the hole", punished for giving hope to the prisoners, that he had the music in his heart. Red, his good friend, is not sure what this means so Andy describes the music, the hope, the hope that no one can take away in Shawshank. Red does not like this as he had given up hope in prison and tells Andy that "hope is a dangerous thing," and walks away.
Andy later talks to Red and describes where he would go if he ever got out of Shawshank. Unknown to Red, Andy does exactly that.
Hope, perseverance, and old rock gave Andy his tunnel to freedom as he was able to live in the knowledge that he was innocent, there was evidence to prove it and that he must get out of Shawshank to bring forth the truth.
Red eventually is paroled and gets a blank postcard knowing it is Andy and decides that he must make it to his friend. He takes off to find the information needed to locate Andy. In the letter that Red finds, Andy tells him that he hopes he is doing well and also to, " Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
I think Red sums it up best for both of our Andys: " Andy crawled to freedom through five-hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can't even imagine, or maybe I just don't want too. Five-Hundred yards... that's the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile.
Andy Dufresne - who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side."
We have seen and heard the "shit smelling foulness" from the attack on Andy Wakefield, the attack on us, and the attack on truth. From the many Wardens - GMC and GlaxoSmithKline to Dr. Paul Offit and Merck, from the guards - Brian Deer and Dr Evan Harris MP, et al -- (here is a great visualthanks to Ginger Taylor: Thank you Andy, for year by year, rock by rock, study by study, revealing the truth and giving hope to so many of us fellow prisoners.
Teresa Conrick is a contributor to Age of Autism.