Transcript: “Dan Smith, Historic Ohio State Reformatory” – S2E6


When Dan Smith left Richland County for college, he probably had no idea he would return to work at The Historic Ohio State Reformatory. However, he did know that he wanted to use his talents to help promote the community where he grew up. In this episode of the Workforce Pulse Podcast, Dan shares his story, and how he made his way and realized a dream right here at home.


INTRO: When Dan Smith left Richland County for college, he probably had no idea he would return to work at the Historic Ohio State Reformatory. However, he did know that he wanted to use his talents to help promote the community where he grew up. In this episode of the Workforce Pulse Podcast, Dan shares his story and how he made his way and realized a dream right here at home.

CLINT: Welcome back to the latest episode of the Workforce Pulse Podcast. My name is Clint Knight from the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development. We’re excited to have you guys back listening to our episodes here and learning more about the work opportunities and individual stories here in Richland County, individuals who have moved away and come back or found a career path for them without leaving town or people who have migrated here from other places.

This week on the episode, I have Dan Smith from the Ohio State Reformatory, Associate Director at the Reformatory. I’m very interested to talk to you about your career, how you ended up doing what you’re doing, and what your interests were when you were in high school. You’re a graduate of Mansfield Senior High, right here in Mansfield, in Richland County.

DAN: I am Yep.

CLINT: You went to Ohio State University, the local campus, the regional campus here, and the Columbus campus, and ended up returning back to Richland County, which we’re happy that you did.

DAN: Absolutely. Glad to be here.

CLINT: So, let’s talk a little bit about high school, right? So, you are a graduate. We’re here on Radio Lane, right across the road from Senior High where you grew up, and you grew up in the Mansfield area and went to school there.

DAN: I did.

CLINT: So, your career that you’ve landed in, which you’ll get to in a little bit, is extremely interesting, especially the activities that have been going on at the Reformatory. Let’s talk a little bit about what you were thinking in high school that sent you on that trajectory.


CLINT: What were you thinking you were going to do when you were a junior or senior in high school?

DAN: So, the funny thing is, I was always really interested in business advertising marketing from that point. I always knew that I wanted to be able to either promote where I lived or promote a company. Really interesting, my grandfather didn’t really retire until he was 94, loved to work. I had an uncle that worked at Adidas, Nike, another one that worked at a really big furniture company, so our family was always very interested in selling things, marketing.

So, living here in Mansfield I always knew I would love to be able to work here. I didn’t know if that was a possibility at the time, but I knew that I wanted to be able to do something. I had a couple business classes, things like that, and knew that I wanted to go to Ohio State. But I knew for sure that that was my passion and working somewhere to be able to promote brands. I had a couple classes that were very specific for that at Senior High that were really great and that was kind of really the first interesting thing that took off, that I knew, hey, this is something that I’m not just even passionate about, but maybe even want to make a career out of.

CLINT: So, you had some members of the family that you could look to and say I, I think I want to do that. What my grandfather was doing or what an uncle, or whatever, so you had some examples there to look at and say that looks like an interesting career.

DAN: Absolutely. And it was really interesting because even then going into Ohio State at the branch, and I’ve told people a lot of this, that was really the kickoff for me in a lot of ways. A lot of family things that happening, and I really didn’t even have the grades at the time to get into OSU Columbus, so OSU Mansfield was a really great jumping off point for me to be able to start locally, have this incredible kind of small classroom setting, and then be able to kind of shoot off towards Columbus.

CLINT: That’s a really good opportunity for our young people that have that goal of getting to that Main Campus, they have that gateway here locally to get into college on the local level, but still be part of the Ohio State system and work their way to getting to that main campus while they’re kind of not spending all that money to relocate.

DAN: Sure.

CLINT: And exploring some options, what they’re looking to do.

DAN: Yeah, it’s been incredible because now being able to obviously work at the Reformatory, and we will dig into that, but being able to work with Netflix, Discovery Channel, Warner Brothers, all of that. I always truly believe that if I didn’t have the jumping off point locally, such as the branch campus here of Mansfield, that I don’t think the opportunities at the Reformatory would have taken off like they did, so to have that local regional campus for kids to be able to have that. I’ve even told that out there a couple times, say listen. This is an incredible opportunity because you can take it so many ways as with all the degrees that Ohio State does have.

CLINT: Not only that, but we have a lot of students who come here from Cuyahoga, from the Cleveland Area to be on that campus. There’s opportunity for those students to get their whole four-year degree here and stay here and work in the industry or the career path that they’re looking for.

I want to back up a little bit to high school again. Can you think of a time, a teacher or someone in that time where they might have said to you, you’ve got this skill. You’ve got this gift of communication or leadership? Or was there something that you were involved in that helped grow the skills that you’re using right now that you learned right here locally.

DAN: Yeah, so I had a business management course in 10th and 11th grade, Professor Gunther Stolcke. I don’t know if he’s still there or not. I haven’t spoke to him in many years, but what was interesting is before coming on, I actually had papers. We were in like kind of a Junior Achievement. We had some things we were supposed to sell and we had this whole thing of hey, we’re going to sell these things and it was going to be for the class.

So, funny enough I went back and looked at OK. How much of this did I then go to college for and what I’m doing now? And funny enough it was very close. So, looking at having those courses at Senior High, really, I don’t know if I knew at the time of the impact that they were going to have on the future career, but I think it gave me kind of some of the blueprints to be able to say, hey. Because there were a lot of options during that of hey where do you want to take this or what portion do you want to be involved in? And I think that was one of the really interesting points to say, wow, this actually really helped me build towards college and then actually build towards my career.

CLINT: I think we all probably have a teacher or a class or experience that we can look back to. For me, 25-26 years ago and say I didn’t know what I was learning. I thought I knew where I was going, but I didn’t really know that that skill, that person, or that program that I was a part of was going to shape what I would be doing way down the road where I landed here in Ohio, because I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in Georgia.

I think that’s key for young people to understand. I think it’s key for parents to understand that there are those influences that happen and really important. Teachers know it, right? They know they see skills, those talents, and they do their best to communicate. Hey, we want you to understand that this is something that you’re clearly passionate, about and there is opportunity for you in this field, right? And in your case, there happened to be opportunity for you right here in Richland County after you moved away.

So, we talked about OSU. Let’s talk about what you studied. We were talking earlier before we started recording. This is a degree that I’d never heard of before, until I looked it up to see what your degree was. So, tell us a little bit about what that was.

DAN: Yes, so communication analysis and practice is a really the easy way that I tell people it is. It’s usually using all of the areas to market something. So, a company or a brand, so radio, social media, websites, billboards, many different things. So interesting enough, even with my uncle working at Nike, I actually had a professor that retired from Nike at OSU Columbus. When I started OSU Mansfield, I knew that I wanted to do that, but I still had more, I think of a generic business degree at the time, but new, hey, this is a little too broad. I wanted to go with something a little more specific, so after talking with my counselors, that’s what we ended up deciding on. So, I think I made that, in the sophomore year, I made the change over, which was great. So that was really, I think when everything started to take off. So really, it’s just the simple kind of watered down version. It’s a good way to market things through different channels.

CLINT: So marketing is an industry that has literally exploded in the last 15 years, I would say. When I mean exploded, I just mean the diversity of what marketing actually is. So traditionally we think about marketing, you know, and think newspaper ads. I mean, when I say traditionally I’m talking 25-30 years ago, billboards, newspaper ads, radio has been around forever and has continued to evolve and through the podcast and in all kinds of different ways. So, when we say marketing, there’s a ton of different degree paths that you could take when it comes to marketing and a ton of different opportunities and things that you could do. Let’s talk about your job now and then we can talk about how broad marketing really is.


CLINT: So ,you landed in a position and I’m imagining this, right? I imagine that your job is part communications, part logistics, part tourism, part project management, part creative, part sales, just all kinds of it.

DAN: All of it. You hit it perfectly, many hats and they continue to grow and it’s incredible because it is always an evolving place. There are always new opportunities, new things happening, new events that we’re doing, new exhibits that are opening. So yes, 100% right.

CLINT: So, let’s talk about where the building that you work in specifically, right? It’s one of our most historic landmarks in the region. It’s internationally known as where Shawshank was filmed. Tell us just a little bit, give us the quick pitch for a listener who may be listening in Texas and has no idea what the Reformatory is.

DAN: Sure, the fun thing that I always tell people is we’ll either go on a work trip or I’ll be somewhere on vacation and somebody will ask what the Ohio State Reformatory is. Some people will start to understand hey, I’ve seen it on TV or somewhere of that nature, but the quick version that I always tell people is, that’s where Shawshank Redemption was filmed. That’s the kicker right there. That’s where everybody always knows it. So yeah, we are the historic museum where Shawshank was filmed.

So, we have been open since the late 90s now and yeah so we have an industrial museum, Shawshank Museum, and a corrections museum. So yeah, with that we have over 250,000 square feet. You get to see most of the building. We have a museum store now, a little cafe, and yeah, it’s really an incredible place for many people.

When we have new staff come, I say it’s kind of a piece of the puzzle and there’s a little bit of something always for someone here. Somebody might say, hey, I don’t like the scary stuff, or the historic part’s not my favorite, but there’s so many different avenues by being able to tour it or come there for an event that there’s really something there for everybody.

CLINT: And there’s a wide range of events that have grown over time, right? You talk about the scary stuff. Right now, it’s October, it’s Halloween week while we’re recording this, and Blood Prison is going on right now, which is a large-scale haunted house that draws people from all over the state, all over the Midwest, I would think, which is a very high-level experience when you’re talking about a haunted house, right? This is not your run-of-the-mill haunted house.

And the events have grown over the years. You know we were talking Eric Church, Country artist, has filmed a video there. He’s not the only one. There’s been other many other films that have been filmed there. A large music festival, Inkarceration occurs there.

And getting back to doing what you want to do, like thinking in high school and when you’re on your career path. Did you think when you got your job at the Reformatory that you would see these kind of things play out on that site over the last 10 years?

DAN: Definitely not. Even when the Reformatory was offered to me, I knew the impact of what Shawshank meant to the community for sure, just because of the Shawshank Trail and things like that. But even me being someone local at that time, I didn’t understand what that building and the movie meant to the country and the world for that matter, of just how much of an impact we now see with tourism and people coming through there. So no, definitely not. And you know, I’ve got to be kind of with the creation of the Inkarceration and the Stallone film that we made years ago and things like that. So, to be able to really see and creating these new avenues of new things that have happened there, no I would have never guessed at the time that that would have been a possibility.

CLINT: So, knowing that you’ve been a part of that, a key part of that, and taking those phone calls and answering those emails and managing those logistics of one of the most famous country artists in the world right now, when they reached out and said, hey, we want to record a music video on your location. When you were 16 and you were thinking, I want to promote, I want to be in marketing, I want to talk about a product, right? In this case, which is the Reformatory. Did you ever think that you would go through college, get that degree, get those skills needed to do that, come back to Mansfield and then be on the phone with people of that level? You were mentioning Netflix and the people that you’ve had conversations with, did you think that was a reality?

DAN: You know, definitely not. It was interesting because, you know, having an uncle that worked at Nike and having big scale, I definitely thought there were opportunities in the sense of the country, but I didn’t know at the time that they would lead me back here to be able to have those incredible opportunities and it was something looking back now to see kind of things, you know, fall into place have been incredible, but yeah, no I would have never thought.

It was interesting, I knew probably when we made this Stallone movie in 2017, that was probably the first thing where I could really see, because Shawshank was there obviously before I started working there. So, to have these really cool things, but I wasn’t really a part of making and creating that. But once the Stallone movie was made, Eric Church, Inkarceration, it was really showing me, wow, there is a lot of potential here at the Reformatory, but also in Richland County, to bring incredible events here.

CLINT: So that’s an amazing story of what we’re looking at here. You know, our topic of discussion, right? When you’re growing up in Richland County, and you have a dream, right? This is what I think I want to do, and you were able to navigate that from the business management class that you had in high school and the influences that you had with family members, their career experiences, you kind of created this idea of what you wanted to do. You set out on that path, navigated that way through college, and then you landed back here. Doing huge things, right? Which is I guess would be the American dream, right? You kind of lived it right?So, if you were talking to a high school student right now, if you were talking to a 15-, 16-, 17-year old in a classroom, which you get to do, probably quite a bit.

DAN: Yeah, we do.

CLINT: And they were thinking I want to be an engineer, or I want to be a film producer, or I want to be a social media marketing professional, or I want to be an architect, what would be a piece of advice that you would give them, looking down the road as they set out to navigate that course.

DAN: I think what’s interesting about it is, you know, during college, I definitely didn’t know that I wanted to possibly have a career that came home, but there was a moment, probably in senior year, where I really thought hey, is there opportunity to really focus on where I grew up? I had a lot of friends and people move away and it was great for them and they had a lot of things. But I thought, really I wanted to be passionate about something and I knew at the time, hey, I would love to at least try to come home. I would like to come home and see if I could really make an impact for Mansfield.

I thought about all of the people and I think maybe going to OSU, it made me think OK, who are the people that impacted me and a lot of it still came back to either the regional campus or high school or people that had believed in me. So, I thought, you know, let’s go back and try this for a little bit. What’s the worst that can happen? I go back two or three years, it doesn’t work out, and that’s OK.

Yeah, it didn’t take very long, and the Reformatory. I had a couple things before that, but the Reformatory had opened up and one of the things I think that I would tell young people is, find what you’re passionate about and also find somebody that will help you in that field. So, whether that’s somebody that you know is a counselor at your school, or a family member, or somebody that you know that you can connect with for that business, and just start spitballing ideas off, that was the big thing for me, is finding people that believed in you, being able to come to the Reformatory and work at a company where they gave you pretty much free rein to say, hey listen, you went to school for this. We believe in you. Go for it. It’s a blank slate.

I believe still to this day that that’s why we’ve grown to the extent we have is because we had people that said hey, you’re educated in this, we’re going to give you an opportunity. So, I think I’ve always wanted to push high school students, college students into whatever you’re passionate about. Go 100% into it, and you will find somewhere in there you’re going to find where it lands.

But now getting to work in Richland County and work at the Reformatory, I’ve got to meet so many incredible people in different fields and be able to kind of work together for the same goal. For example, I’ve worked with a lot of people now that say hey, you’ve brought in films or productions. How do we do that? How do we capitalize on it? And one of the greatest things for the Reformatory is there’s no competition. There’s not another Shawshank. There’s not another prison here, so we get to share those blueprints with people we get to have those conversations, because at the end of the day, the Reformatory may bring everybody into Mansfield for that, but we want them to be able to stay. We want them to go to Downtown, Kingwood, all these other incredible places that we do have, because then they’ll, in my opinion, they’ll have a better time because of that.

If you just have a really cool 2-hour window, this is great. But then if you just go back to Cleveland, Columbus or wherever you were, I don’t feel like that’s as impactful as showing all these other incredible things. So long story to kind of say that, but yeah, just find what you’re passionate about and really try to be as educated as you can on that, find a mentor during that time and really just push forward with it.

CLINT: So, along that same topic, what would you say to somebody, a young person, whether it’s maybe not high school, but a recent graduate right, who’s 18 or 19, who has spent all those years here, they’ve grown up here their entire life, and they’re looking around, and they’re saying there’s nothing to do here, right? There’s nothing for me to do here. You and I both know that that’s not true, but we’re older. We’re not 18 or 19, right? I want to go somewhere where there’s, you know, a metropolitan area where there’s other opportunity. What would you say to those young people who were thinking I just got to go. Or those parents who were trying to talk to those young people and say, hey, you should really stay, because five years from now, you’re gonna feel completely different, right?

DAN: Sure. Yeah, I think the interesting thing is, even when I was in high school, I think to myself that I had no real concept of, I mean, I thought I did, but knowing even what the surrounding counties have here or what even is going on deeper into Richland County. I think sometimes it’s easy when something is in your backyard to think well, I know everything is there or there isn’t an opportunity there. But I couldn’t really think other than this that there are so many things happening here by the incredible people that are now working here through you and Destination Mansfield. I’ve got to meet so many different people that are promoting all these things that are happening here.

So, I think that for people that are really keen on wanting to leave, I think I would just take a step back for a minute and really explore, you know, why do you want to leave? What do we not have here that you’re looking for, because probably 9 out of 10 times I think there’s some whatever version that that exists here. So I think I would just say, yeah, hey, you know, take a step back, look around, because that’s how I was. I can remember when I really had thought, you know, I really want to go to Columbus, OSU Columbus like I had thought this big picture. And then when I actually ended up at the, you know, the branch campus out here was really. I had figured out, actually it was just on a smaller scale of everything that’s happening down there, I wasn’t missing out on anything and you get a lot of the benefits that are down there, so I think I would just tell students and people to think. Hey listen, you know just look around because there are a lot of things, and maybe talk to somebody. Maybe talk to somebody in your community to say hey, this is what I’m looking for. Does that exist here? Because I bet you’ll be surprised by what you find out.

DAN: I think something you mentioned earlier could be a key part of that, you know, finding a business mentor, a career mentor that has been on a path similar to what you have described and has spent that time discovering what it is that they want to do. Because when you say the word career, it is so overwhelming, it’s so broad. My goal was to be, I wanted to be a professional musician. My original goal was to be a teacher. I was going to be a music teacher, and then you know I got out, and it’s like no. I want to play. You know, I’ve spent all this time practicing and trying to hone this craft, I want to play. But there’s so much to that, it’s so broad that I just took a really wide approach to it and just went out there and said I’m just going to throw myself out there and somebody is going to pick me up and hire me, and that’s not the case. You really have to narrow that path and stay almost laser focused in order to find exactly what it is that you want to do and be most passionate about.

And I think walking side by side with a mentor and talking to them, not just about your career path, but a mentor that’s local who knows what’s here, where those opportunities are, and how to get connected to the right people. I think that plays a key role in setting young people up for success.

CLINT: Yeah I do too, that was a lot of the reason I think that everything has happened for me, really from that, as I just really focused on hey, this is what I want to do, let me put all the chips in, go for this and see what happens. And I think what’s amazing about the Richland County area is it’s a lot easier, in my opinion, at least, to connect with those people and really be able to find those people. You know, I love Columbus. I love Cleveland. I love the aspect that we can bring people in and bring talent in or even you know you can travel to you know sporting events and those type of things. But when I look at actually working career, family life, those things, I don’t think I would have wanted it in any other way, just because you can really, I think laser focus in and connect with companies and things in such an easier scale than some of those big metropolitan areas.

CLINT: Another thing that I was just thinking about while you were talking is, there’s a group in town called the Richland Young Professionals, and that’s a group of young people that is established for that purpose, for those young people, those young professionals, or those individuals who were looking, what am I going to do now, right? I went and I got a two-year associate’s degree or while I’m getting that degree, that’s a group of people who get together. They have social events. They do volunteer events, they do a variety of things. They even have workshops on how do I market myself as a professional or how do I network? And that’s a great opportunity for young people, when I say young people, I mean I think their age range is 18 to 42 or something like that, but for young people to get in and talk to others who are in the middle of navigating that, or who are just on the other side of navigating who have worked their way through that career path and have found something that they can tell others about. So, Richland Young Professionals I think can be found on Facebook or just look them up on the on the interwebs.

DAN: That’s it, yeah.

CLINT: Awesome. Dan, I was very excited to talk to you because what you guys do at the Reformatory is huge work for the county when it comes to tourism and the region, but also it’s a huge part of the culture of the county, it’s a big part of this story of mid-Ohio and the thousands and thousands of people that come to your site each year does great things for Richland County and we appreciate the work that you guys do.

DAN: Yeah, thanks a lot. We really are excited about the future of the Reformatory and kind of what it means for the area, so it just continues to grow, so we hope that it can just continue to have this massive impact for the community. We actually have a new info center that is almost strictly just for promoting other businesses. So, anybody that is wanting their business promoted or hey, I’ve got a cool you know menu for a restaurant or whatever the case, please reach out to the Reformatory so that we can help push business your way.

CLINT: And you also have the Manufacturing Museum on site now at the Reformatory as well, which showcases the history of manufacturing in the area.

DAN: Yeah, it’s really cool, it is no additional cost on top of your ticket, so you get to go check that out and it’s really just, yeah, an incredible way to also promote the community and what we’ve done around here for so long for people that may not have known that before coming into the Reformatory, so we’re really excited to have that there.

CLINT: Awesome. Thanks for coming on the Workforce Post Podcast this week. It’s great to talk to you, and it’s so encouraging to hear your story, so that others can hear it, so that educators can hear your pathway, specific examples of how we can foster this talent in Richland County. For those students who are looking for direction and looking for opportunity, they’re dreaming big, and this is proof that they can dream big and do that work, and live that dream right here locally. It’s encouraging for parents and some direction for young people as well. So thanks for coming on and telling your story. This is valuable stuff.

DAN: My pleasure, thanks for having me yeah.