In The Shawshank Redemption, there are several similarities between the character of Brooks Hatlen and a real life prison inmate named Robert Stroud a.k.a. "The Birdman of Alcatraz"

  • Brooks and Robert Stroud both entered the prison system in the early 1900's.
  • They both found wounded bird(s) and nursed them back to health.
  • They both had a love of books (Brooks being the prison librarian and Robert being a published author).
  • Both men spent the majority of their life in prison. They were both in the prison system for 40+ years.
  • Brooks and Robert both had a love and/or fascination with birds.

Is there any authoritative evidence that Brooks Hatlen's character was based on Robert Stroud?

I came across this website that discusses the similarities between the two. This actually claims that Stephen King modeled the character of Brooks Hatlen after Robert Stroud, but there is no authoritative source for the claim:

How the history of Alcatraz inspired The Shawshank Redemption.

PLEASE NOTE: I'm looking for credible sources only. I provided the link above as an example of a source that is NOT authoritative. Sources from writers and/or filmmakers would be appreciated.

  • I don't want to make this an answer, as it's largely circumstantial, but it's often impossible to prove a negative. You can't ever say "there was no influence" unless, perhaps, Stephen King discussed this directly. What's more, if you read up on Robert Stroud, he was nothing like Brooks. Stroud raised hundreds of birds, initially with approval, then when they tried to take them away, he wrote letters to people to help him keep his birds. Stroud also published two books.
    – userLTK
    Oct 18, 2017 at 5:30
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    I have read up extensively on Robert Stroud. That's why I think that there are many similarities between the two. Stroud had anger management issues and a short temper, which made him different from Brooks in that way. Yes...I'm aware that Stroud lobbied to keep his birds and also had to keep a secretary because of all of the correspondence...kinda like what happens in Shawshank with the library/tax preparations. Hmmmmm... Oct 18, 2017 at 15:54
  • @steelersquirrel - It could be that King used the real life inmate and took certain aspects of his life to create Brooks, authors do it all the time. However, to definitely say that he did(like the link claims) is incorrect, King never came out and publicly said it, it's just speculation on the blogs part.
    – user58206
    Oct 18, 2017 at 16:17
  • @S.R. Yes, I know that it is incorrect to definitely say that King used Stroud as inspiration for Brooks without a source...that's why I used that blog as a reference on what not to use as a source. Oct 18, 2017 at 17:06
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    @S.R. Sure. I actually found an old interview from King from 1998, I believe. It just takes a little research. We find sources all of the time directly from authors and/or filmmakers to answer questions like these. If it doesn't have an answer, then so be it. There are other blog discussions about the comparisons of these two characters along with comparisons to other prisons. This question might just take some extra research. If no information can be found, then the question just won't be answered. No big deal :) Oct 18, 2017 at 17:26

1 Answer 1


A along time ago, I was user58206 and I knew the novella mentioned the Birdman of Alcatraz, but I couldn't find it at the time. I recently decided to read it again and I found the passage that mentions that name.

Let me break it down.


The novella has a lot of characters, some of which didn't make it into the movie because they only play a small or sometimes insignificant role to the overall plot. For example, in the novella Andy had a cellmate for a brief time, but in the movie no cellmate is mentioned or shown, and according to the Warden, Andy lives in a one bunk Hilton.

One character is compared to the Birdman of Alcatraz, his name is Sherwood Bolton. He had a bird named Jake, and just like in the movie, he is set free before the character is granted parole. In the novella, the rest of the inmates find the dead bird after Sherwood has left Shawshank.

Red's quote (p.16):

He wasn't any Birdman of Alcatraz; he just had his pigeon.


The movie combines several characters to make it easier for the plot, for example, they're several Wardens who come and go in the prison and Andy helps all of them with scams, but in the movie, Norton is the primary antagonist.

Sherwood Bolton and his bird were written into the character of Brooks. We all know the story of Brooks from the movie, so I won't repeat it here, but in the novella it isn't as tragic.

There you have it, King uses the Birdman of Alcatraz as a comparison.

Is there any authoritative evidence that Brooks Hatlen's character was based on Robert Stroud?

The character of Brooks wasn't based on anyone. The question should be, was Sherwood Bolton based on Stroud?

I don't believe so, because a direct comparison is made between the two characters. If Stroud was used as the basis for Sherwood, then I don't think King would have made a comparison like he did. Also, Sherwood's life isn't mentioned in detail, other than the small paragraph, that's pretty much it. Had Stroud been used as a basis, King would have written more about the character, enough for readers to compare the two characters.

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