Brooks Hatlen was an inmate at Shawshank State Prison from 1905 to 1954. He was the librarian of the prison starting in 1912, and was friends with Andy.
Brooks is portrayed by James Whitmore.
Brooks found a small crow named Jake who had fallen out of a nest near the license plate shop, and was caring for it. Andy sat next to him, and noticed a maggot in his breakfast. Brooks asked for it, and Andy thought Brooks might eat it, but is relieved when he opens his sweater and instead feeds it to the crow. Later that year, Brooks was instrumental in getting Andy his rock hammer. After it is brought in through the laundry, Red places it into Brooks's rolling book cart, and pays him six cigarettes for postage. He wheels it down to Andy, who discreetly takes it.
In 1949, after Andy assisted Captain Hadley in avoiding paying his inheritance tax, Warden Norton appoints him the assistant librarian. Andy finds this surprising as Brooks has never had an assistant in his 37 years as librarian. Brooks shows him around the dilapidated library, comprised of nothing more than some old books and magazines. A prison guard named Dekins comes to Andy asking for help to start a trust fund for his children. Brooks is surprised by Andy's professionalism and later jokes about it with the gang. When Andy talks to Brooks about getting funds for a better library from the prison, Brooks is incredulous and thinks it is not possible to do so.
In 1952, Brooks is seen as Andy's assistant (along with Red) as he works as the accountant for the guards of the prison.
In 1954, Floyd tells Andy and Red that Brooks is holding a knife to Heywood's throat. Andy manages to calm him down, but he is distraught. They later learn that Brooks has been paroled, and that killing Heywood would have been his way to stay in prison. The gang discusses Brooks, and Red says that Brooks has been in prison so long that he is institutionalized.As he leaves, he lets Jake go free. The prison doors open, and Brooks steps out and takes a bus to his new home. He is astounded by the changes in the world since he was free, and complains that everyone got themselves in a hurry. The parole board got him into a halfway house called The Brewer, and a job bagging groceries at the Food-Way. Brooks hates working there and considers robbing the store and killing the manager (as a bonus) to go back to prison. He decides that he is too old to do that.
He writes a letter back to his friends at the prison, in which he expresses his difficulties adjusting to the outside world, including holding up a job at a grocery store as a bagger, living in constant fear, and longing to break his parole so they'd send him back home. He decides that he's tired of being afraid, and, deciding not to stay, gets up on a table and carves Brooks was here into the ceiling beam. He ties a rope around the beam, and puts a noose around his neck. He rocks the table, and it falls. He commits suicide then the camera zooms out on the rope spinning around.
- There was a scene in the script where Red finds Jake's carcass. This was to symbolize that Jake was meant to be caged, just like Brooks.
|“||I never had time to shoot this section of the film, for which I'll always have mixed feelings. The writer in me mourns its absence, because it's among my favorite sequences written. The director in me realizes it's probably just as well -- since it isn't vital from a strictly narrative standpoint, I ultimately would have faced the tough decision of losing it in the editing room to tighten an already long movie. (As William Goldman so wisely observes in his excellent book Adventures in the Screen Trade, sometimes you have to kill your darlings...) The absence of this sequence does put an interesting and different spin on the Brooks/Jake subtext. As Red notes toward the end of the film, "Some birds aren't meant to be caged." As written, neither Brooks nor Jake is that kind of bird; neither can survive on the outside. As filmed, however, Jake can survive, but Brooks can't. In a symbolic sense, Jake now represents Andy and Brooks represents Red. It's a subtle but fairly meaningful shift.||”|
|— Frank Darabont|
- In the novel, Brooks has a college degree in Animal Husbandry. Infact he got the prison library job due to being one of the only few prisoners with a degree.