Warden Samuel Norton is first seen when he introduces himself to the new inmates. He portrays himself as a strict Christian, though whether this is sincere at the start or just a facade all along to maintain a good public image is unclear given the fact that Norton has no problem with allowing Captain Byron Hadley to beat an inmate that spoke disrespectfully to him with his nightstick and he is later revealed to be, or at least to have become, corrupt, greedy, deceitful, and remorselessly cruel. Warden Norton says that he believes in two things: discipline and the Bible, and that the inmates will receive both.
Norton then says that he will not tolerate blasphemy in his prison and then tells the prisoners that their asses belong to him. Norton is not seen again for a considerable amount of the film, appearing in the latter's cell for a surprise inspection upon learning of Andy Dufresne's financial expertise from Hadley. They talk over the Bible, and Norton agrees to let him keep his Rita Hayworth poster before leaving. Norton later pulls him out of the laundry and places him in the library so he can do taxes for all of the guards at Shawshank and handle other financial affairs.
Just over the halfway point of the film, Warden Norton creates the "inside-out program," where inmates leave the prison to work on public service projects, such as the building of roads. Because independent contractors can't compete with the "army of slaves" Norton has taking up all of the projects they need to make a profit, Norton makes them bribe him so they can get the contract instead of Norton's men. Also, Norton would skim off of the top by buying expensive equipment and then steal all of the extra money.
He uses Andy's accounting skills for his own illegal uses, having him launder the dirty money and transfer it into various Portland bank accounts. Andy gets the idea to create a fictional person for all of the accounts to be tied back to, so nobody will get prosecuted for the money laundering should anybody stumble across the crime. After Andy discovers from another inmate named Tommy Williams who really murdered his wife and her lover, Andy realizes that he could finally prove his innocence and be released from prison.
Andy tells his story to Norton, who doesn't believe him. When Andy says that should he be released, he would never say anything about the corruption going on inside the prison walls, Norton flies into a rage and has Andy put in solitary confinement for a month. Later, after being assured by Tommy that Andy's story is true and that Tommy would be willing to testify for him in court to free him, Norton has Hadley murder Tommy with a rifle, setting up the scene to look like an escape attempt.
Norton then talks to Andy and lies that Tommy was killed because he was trying to escape. Norton, who knows that Andy is almost ready to expose the corruption, tells Andy to forget about the whole mess. When Andy threatens to stop helping him with his illegal transactions, Norton tells him that if he were to do this, he would do the hardest time there is, with no protection from any of the guards and being moved out of his one-bunk cell into a cell filled with violent male rapists.He also threatens to burn all of the books in the Brooks Hatlen Memorial Library and seal it off, before locking Andy up for another month. When Andy is released, he decides that he has been in prison long enough and switches out Norton's incriminating bank deposit records with his Bible, which was hollowed out to store his rock hammer.That night, Andy steals one of Norton's suits and his best pair of dress shoes and escapes Shawshank through the tunnel he had been digging over the past seventeen years. The next morning, Andy uses the fake identity he created to make withdrawals of all of Norton's corruption money from the various banks and then mails the documents proving Norton's corruption and the murder of Tommy to the Portland Daily Bugle, who expose it in the newspaper and deliver the ledger to DA for use in indictments. Police arrive at the prison and arrest Hadley, however, Norton shoots himself through the head with a snub-nose Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver to evade arrest.