Folsom State Prison

Folsom State Prison is a California State Prison located in the city of Folsom, California, 20 miles northeast from the state capital of Sacramento. Opened in 1880, Folsom is the second-oldest prison in the state of California. Folsom was one of the first maximum security prisons, and as such witnessed the execution of 93 condemned prisoners over a 42-year period. It is possibly best known in popular culture for two concerts performed at the facility by musician Johnny Cash in the late 1960s and held Rich James as a prisoner. Its current warden is Rick Hill. “…And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when, I’m stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin’ on…” – Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues. In the 1860′s, the Livermore family decided the American River at Folsom was an ideal location for development of water-generated power to operate a sawmill and other industrial plants.

The site for Folsom Prison was chosen not only because of the availability of the land, but also because of the close proximity to the American River for hydro energy and the abundance of good quality granite nearby which could be excavated for the prison site. After the dam was completed, in the late 1880’s they realized that the dam can be used to turn on generators to produce electricity for Sacramento, which was 22 miles down the stream. The Folsom Powerhouse began transmission of electric power July 13, 1895. Though Folsom Prison is what made the city famous, it’s barely an afterthought to residents these days.

The occasional lineup whistle is a daily reminder that a prison still stands in city limits, but it’s easy to forget that a maximum-security prison is contained within the city. Folsom State Prison opened in 1880 and covers 40 acres and must employee many to keep in running smoothly and properly. It currently employees 643 custody officers, 236 support services staff, and 162 medical staff, which makes it a total of 1,041 staff members that are employed in the prison. The prison’s operating budget is around $118 million, annually.

At Folsom State Prison was to keep inmates in and they only have a limited space amount, back in the old days they had enough room and much more, but nowadays they have filled capacity and more. Level I was designed to have a capacity of 286, but now is holding 402. Level II was designed to hold 321, but is now holding 592. Level III of their facility was designed to hold 1,340 but now holds 2,389. Finally their ASU is designed to hold 138 and now holds 146, which all totaled up the prison, is meant to hold 2,085, but currently holds 3,540. This means that there are 414 more people in this prison than what it can hold/withstand.

Paul Barker is a Lieutenant and the spokesperson for Folsom State Prison and I was able to catch him on his busy schedule to have a few words and a small interview. He informed me on his challenges as a spokesman is that the amount of people that need information from him in a small amount of time. His successes in life have been that he had reached the level of lieutenant and has worked in many areas of the prison and that he is proved of himself that he has managed his way up the ladder in the prison. The benefits and the excitement of being in area of law enforcement were the reasons as to why he chose to be in the career area and he is sticking through it, till he reaches his goal, which to someday own and be the warden of his own prison. It’s a long shot, but he has worked so hard and has much experience and has stuck with this career for a long time.

Inmates are currently housed at level 1 and 2 securities, the two lowest levels of security for prisons operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Level 1 prisoners are housed in open dormitories without a secure perimeter, and level 2 prisoners may be housed in open dormitories with secure perimeter fence. Later, in the 2004, level 2 prisoners in Folsom State were moved to other prisons and level 3 prisoners took level 2 prisoners’ cells. There are five housing units within the secure perimeter, including the original two-tiered structure. Unit 1 is the most populous cellblock in the United States, with a capacity of nearly 1,200 inmates on four five-tiered sections. All cells include toilet, sink, bunks and storage space for inmate possessions. There are two dining halls, a large central prison exercise yard, and two smaller exercise yards. Thevisiting room includes an attached patio as well as space for non-contact visits.

Folsom State also has many programs to help prisoner onto their feet after they are finally released. They wanted to give inmates the chance to turn away from crime when they are released and have a new life. Folsom State Prison offers academic and vocational programs to offer inmates the skills they need to succeed. Academic programs offered at Folsom State Prison include adult basic education, General Education Development (GED), and adult High School. Additional services include library, inmate assessments and literacy. Vocational programs include masonry, building maintenance, office services, welding, and auto mechanics. Folsom State Prison also offers college programs through Coastline Community College.

James was a leading funk singer/songwriter of the 1980s. He got his start as a bassist in various bands before going solo in the late 1970s; his 1978 solo debut Come Get It! included the hits “Mary Jane” and “You and I” which made his songs and music something that people wanted to dance and get funky to. Rick James lived life hard, but maybe too hard; he had been arrested several times on drug charges and served nearly two years in California’s Folsom Prison from 1994-96. On the other hand, Rick James wasn’t the only one to make this Prison famous.

Johnny Cash gave a concert to the prisoners in Folsom State Prison in 1968 that would later famously give his fans a peek inside Folsom State Prison. When Johnny entered the prison and the gates closed and heard that big “clank” of the gates, Johnny turned to his friend and photographer, Jim Marshall and said “Jim that sound has the feeling of permence about it” His first words to the start of his concert were “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” and everyone went crazy and he began singing. “Johnny, I want you to hear a song written by Glen Sherley, an inmate in Folsom, serving five to life for armed robbery. You’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to tell you about it but I thought if you could mention tomorrow that you’ve heard the tape, it would please that ol’ boy who wrote it.” Glen Sherley was the one who sang the Folsom Prison Blues first and as soon as Johnny heard the recording of his song he said that he needed to make this into a single and record it the next day. On that day in the prison it did not matter if you did or didn’t like country music, everyone wanted to get in that cafeteria just to listen to Johnny Cash.

Folsom State Prison, a prison that made one of Johnny Cash’s singles famous, held Rick James, and yet keeps thousands of inmates kept inside on a daily basis. This prison is famous for the inmates it held and the historical event that happened, but to the city dwellers in California sometimes forgets that this prison is even in their city. Folsom State Prison cares for the huge amounts of inmates that are currently staying in the prison and even help them when they are release with the prisons’ extensive educational programs. “Far from Folsom prison, that’s where I want to stay, And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away…..” – Johnny Cash, Folsom Blues

Works CitedBarker, Paul. “Folsom State Prison.” Interview by Isaac Avila. N.d. Television. “CDCR – Folsom State Prison (FSP) – Inmate Programs.” CDCR – Folsom State Prison (FSP) – Inmate Programs. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Aug. 2012. <>. “Folsom Prison.” « N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Aug. 2012. <>. “Inside Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison.” N.p., 18 Nov. 2005. Web. 10 Aug. 2012. <>. “Rick James Biography.” – Birthday, Photos. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2012. <>.