I Stayed Overnight At A Haunted Prison And Here’s What Happened (Spoiler: I Believe In Ghosts Now)

This is the true play-by-play account of what happened when I stayed overnight at Ohio’s Mansfield Reformatory on January 23rd. For more background on the trip, read the pre-trip article:

9:35 PM

We finally arrive at the Mansfield Reformatory! After pulling through the gates, and driving down the same long driveway you can see a prison car drive down in the Shawshank Redemption, we find ourselves standing in the renovated foyer area.

The crew consists of me, my photographer Erin, and my friend Cameron. Our mission? To find out whether to place is really as haunted as they say. I consider myself a paranormal skeptic. I’m not outright opposed to the idea of ghosts and whatnot, but I certainly scoff at all the Travel Channel specials featuring sensational mediums and rowdy poltergeists.

9:45 PM

The lobby / foyer area is filled with interesting historical artifacts from the prison during its operation. As we walk around — killing time before the event begins at 10pm — Erin began to get some very weird vibes. I ask her what up, and she says feels extremely uneasy.

I decide to go to the restroom before we start. The only operating restroom is apparently pretty deep in the building, so I am escorted by an event staffer named Joe. Joe walks with a swagger, talking about the building and various “ghost hunts” he’s worked in the past. Before I walk into the bathroom he turns, looks me directly in the eye, and says:

“And before you ask, yes, this place is definitely haunted.”

A chill goes down my spine.

While Joe walks me back from the restroom, I ask what his spookiest experience in the prison was.

“People will talk about hearing things, and seeing shadow people, and we absolutely have that,” he said after a brief pause, “But the creepiest experience I ever had was actually different. It took place in the solitary confinement cells. We had a group down there, and one girl, who was sitting in one of the cells began giggling. The rest of the group was kinda angry, because they were trying to focus on the tour, and this girl just wouldn’t stop laughing. I walked her out of there and almost immediately she began crying, ‘I couldn’t stop,’ she told me.”

Officially creeped out.

We go back to the foyer, and a staffer is reciting the rules:

“No ouija boards, no seances,” the employee says.

“Yeah, because they’d work,” Erin whispers under her breath to me.

10:10 PM

Erin Koyle
Erin Koyle

Okay, the night has officially begun, and we decide to scope out the cell blocks first.

The cell blocks are, well, pretty much what they sound like. There are rows and columns of cells stretching down over 100 yards.

We spend a lot of time walking around the ground floor, getting a feel for the place and our equipment. We poke around in some cell, and in this creepy AF little room that had who knows what purpose:

The whole place definitely feels spooky, which is ABSOLUTELY not helped by the cardboard cutouts of Shawshank Redemption characters that some cruel cruel person decided to put all around the place, but nothing paranormal yet.

10:30 PM

Erin Koyle
Erin Koyle

Then we decide to go to the attic, and things get a little freaky.

The attic is a huge vast array of broken church pews, old junk, and heating ducts. We slowly walk the entire thing to the very end where there are some additional chambers and a lonely chair.

Erin Koyle
Erin Koyle

The three of us gather together, and Erin suggests we all turn off our flashlights in unison. Clinging to each other like infants to their parents, we click off our lights and are submerged in total darkness.

We let a minute go by, and then another, when suddenly Erin gasps, “What the hell is that?”

Cameron and I look up, but don’t see anything. Erin explains that she had seen a light at the far other end (the entrance side) of the room. Suddenly, it appears again. It glows orange and moves up and down from the corner of the ceiling. We turn our flashlights back on and it vanishes.

“What was that?” I ask as we bounce possibilities off each other. It didn’t look like a “traditional” orb that I had seen on ghost hunting television shows, and Cameron thought it might be the light from a flashlight shining through from another room. As we inspect the area it was coming from, we don’t see anything man-made that could have produced it.

11:00 PM

Erin Koyle
Erin Koyle

After a little more poking around we leave the attic and scope out the chapel, which is also supposed to be riddled with paranormal activity. I sit in a pew in the first row and recite the Lord’s prayer.

We take some photos and walk the room. Suddenly we hear a sound from the ceiling, and all turn out flashlights toward it in panic.

Just birds. F*cking birds perching on the church rafters.

We decide to peace out, and head upstairs from the chapel to the TB ward.

11:10 PM

Erin Koyle
Erin Koyle

The steps up to the TB ward were extremely narrow and difficult to navigate. By the time we pushed the door open to the vast open expanse of the room, we were pretty on-edge. Only a few steps inside the room, I gasped, and everyone froze.

A headless bird lay dead on the floor. I let out a sigh as Cameron hit me, and we continued on our way. As it turned out, the whole room was riddled with dead birds, and totally freaked out not by the paranormal, but by the avian corpses, we decide it is time for a break.

11:45 PM

We go back to the breakroom where the Reformatory’s Preservation Society — who organized the event and maintains the prison — serves pizza and (the worst) coffee (i’ve ever had in my life).

We talk to another event staffer and ask him if there is any explanation for this weird light that we saw in the attic. He almost immediately replies “no,” and elaborates that there isn’t any sort of lighting up there that would look like what we saw.

We decide it is time to pay another visit to the attic and see is up with this orb.

12:30 AM

Erin Koyle
Erin Koyle

When we arrive back in the attic, we discover that we aren’t alone. A couple of people are standing at the far end of the attic (from where we originally saw the light) and something is going DOWN.

Using a flashlight and some sort of radio wave scanner, a woman is communicating with something, and it is freaky as hell.

“If you are with us, please turn off the flashlight,” she says, as the flashlight sitting on a crate begins to flicker on and off repeatedly.

“Are you friendly or non-friendly?” The woman asks.

“Non-friendly,” I can make out through the static on the radio scanner, and a chill goes down my spine.

“What’s your name?” The woman asks, but the answer comes much less clearly.

“Do you want us to be here? Do you want to talk to us?” The woman persists in asking, and the answer again, comes out fuzzy, but sounds much more like a “no” than a “yes.”

“If you want us to leave, turn off the flashlight,” the woman says.

The flashlight begins flickering on and off like mad.

“Well, I guess if you don’t want me here, I’ll leave,” the woman puts plainly. Since she had started communicating, a larger crowd has amassed, and we decide to move on until the area clears out a little bit.

We decide to take the plunge to solitary confinement and the basement.

1:00 AM

On our way to solitary we traveled through the east cell block on an upper level. The scaffolding is extremely narrow, and you definitely get a weird feeling while passing cell after cell. While we were walking through, however, Cameron (who was at the back of the pack) kept asking me to walk faster. By the time we reached the end, we were all basically sprinting. He said that he felt like someone was following him, and both he and Erin heard footsteps behind them. I, being in the front, heard footsteps behind me too, but I just assumed it was theirs.

After getting to the “wing” of the prison where solitary is located, we actually ended up in the “sub basement” cuz we didn’t have any idea where we were going, and this was an area that I was extremely eager to leave. Besides being eerie and spooky, the ceiling was extremely low, leaving me with a very claustrophobic feeling.

Erin Koyle
Erin Koyle

Then came solitary, or “the hole.” Maybe because solitary confinement had been so hyped up as this creepy AF place, or maybe because we had already had experiences elsewhere, that it didn’t quite meet my expectations.

Erin said she got seriously intense vibes while walking through the south side of the solitary cells, but neither Cameron or I were really spooked or felt anything in the area. After walking around the area a few times we popped upstairs to the court room and scoped that room out as well.

Erin Koyle
Erin Koyle

Afterward, we make our way through the old library and infirmary. The library still has a few scattered old books, and the infirmary is littered with random chairs and some abandoned medical equipment.

Erin Koyle
Erin Koyle

After poking around the infirmary, we are all yawning pretty intensely and decide that we should go back to the breakroom one last time to caffeinate.

1:40 AM

We regroup in the breakroom and discuss the occurrence in the attic. A staffer, Doug, comes by and asks us what we experienced. He encourages us to check out the East block showers, where apparently two spirits — Mr. Anderson and Mr. Salts reside. He also suggests that we should walk the front side of the East Cell block, because he almost always hears footsteps behind him.

Ironically enough, the East Cell block was exactly where we were when Cameron and Erin heard footsteps behind them that I had previously dismissed.

“That happened to us!” Cameron exclaimed after Doug finished, and the seasoned staffer just nodded with a smile. It wasn’t a surprise to him.

We all decide that it’s time to break out our equipment. Erin had brought a beginner’s paranormal detection kit, and we examined what was in it. We had a clickable flashlight, motion detector, and radio wave scanner (with headphones). We head off the to the showers to see if we could contact some ghosts ourselves.

1:50 AM

Erin Koyle
Erin Koyle

We set up the motion detector at the end of an bench facing the showers and I put on my headphones connected to our radio wave scanner. We try asking for both Mr. Anderson and Mr. Salts, but to no avail.

“We need to do something to get their attention…” I muse.

“I have an idea!” Cameron exclaims while putting his flashlight on the ground and standing up, “Hey ghost! Jake dropped the soap!!”

Erin Koyle
Erin Koyle

Erin and I look at each other and groan. Maybe it’s time to try another room.

2:30 AM

We decide to try our equipment in the room that has seen the most paranormal activity all night, so we once again return to the attic.

Similar to the first time we went there, it is completely empty. We set up our stuff at the end of the room where the woman before had been communicating with a spirit.

Erin Koyle
Erin Koyle

We begin by introducing ourselves and asking questions. We invite it to flicker our flashlight or set off the motion detector to make its presence known. I listen to the static in my headset as nothing changes.

After a while, I muse, “I bet you’re sick of people bothering you tonight,” and without warning, my headset begins blaring Justin Bieber.

“What is that?” Erin asks with a puzzled look on her face.

“The Biebs,” I reply as I remove the headphones.

“That’s…not a radio…” She replies slowly.

We all look at each other.


Erin Koyle via iPhone 6
Erin Koyle via iPhone 6

We don’t have any further luck with using our amateur (i.e. pretty shitty) technology, so decide to pack it up and start the drive back to Columbus.

Even after going over all the photos, videos, and notes I took, much remains inconclusive. We haven’t found anything super paranormal on the footage we’ve gone through so far, so we are really left with the experiences we had in the prison.

The attic was absolutely the most active for us, and absolutely surpassed my expectations. So much weird shit went down there, and nobody seems to have an immediate explanation. The footsteps phenomenon in the east cell block was also fishy, though there is also something to say about “nerves” and sheer coincidence.

If it wasn’t clear, we also didn’t have a perfect handle on equipment either. I would be very interested in going back with better equipment and more training. For now, however, I’d say a casual examination of the evidence suggests that some of the formerly interned absolutely remain at Ohio’s Mansfield Reformatory. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Special thanks to the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society for granting us permission to use facility photos. Those interested in doing a similar ghost hunt can sign up on the MRPS website. More information can be found on their website, Twitter, or Facebook accounts.

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