Left alone momentarily to work in the warden's office, prisoner Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption), plots a surprise treat for his fellow inmates. He activates the warden's PA system, flips on a record player, and spreads the sweet sound of opera music throughout the jail. Initially frozen with shock, the prison guards rush toward the office to silence Dufresne's act of defiance. After they finally break through the locked door, the infuriated warden sentences Dufresne to two weeks of solitary confinement. Dufresne later boasts to his inmate friends that the time alone wasn't too hard: He listened to Mozart in his head. "That's the beauty of music," he explains. "They can't get that from you."

The Shawshank Redemption, based on a short story by Stephen King, expresses the spiritual longing for freedom. In this instance, music represents Dufresne's struggle to retain hope amid a corrupt prison culture. The movie borrows freely from a rich genre of prison narratives, which Christian writers have pioneered and bolstered for centuries. For some of Christianity's most powerful teachers, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and John Bunyan, internment has been God's agent for redemption and a stirring source of literary inspiration.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)

The Russian czar's guards dispatched Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Siberia-bound sled on Christmas Eve, 1849. Earlier that year, he had been arrested for participating in a socialist discussion group, whose members desired to end serfdom in Russia. After awaiting their fate for more than eight months in a Saint Petersburg jail, they learned the bad news: They had been sentenced to death.

But on December 22, at the last ...

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