Folsom State Prison is located in Represa, California – which interestingly doesn’t really show up on the map. The prison is it’s own town with it’s own postal code, located in what was once a large green space in the middle of nowhere, but is now the town of Folsom.
Folsom State Prison opened in 1880 and is the second oldest prison in California, after San Quentin. It was one of America’s first maximum security prisons but now holds mostly medium security folk.
The main gate to the prison property is just after you come through an older residential section of Folsom. Once you drive through the gate you are surrounded by lush green fields and lots of woodlands – totally not what I expected for a prison grounds. There are actually 3 prisons now on site – the original Folsom State Prison, Folsom State Prison 2 (now called Sacramento State Prison) and a Women’s facility. Total capacity of all of them put together is about 7000 inmates.
We weren’t quite sure what to think when we pulled into the parking lot right below the prison wall and then walked towards the gates and read the “visitors” sign.
We came to check out the Folsom Prison Museum, which looked like a non-traditional learning experience for our law enforcement focused kid. Although small in stature and foot print the museum was jam packed with interesting displays and facts.
In the middle of the prison land, in between the two prisons, sits a small town with residential streets and houses. For a long period of time prison staff were required to live on site. Many still do but more to take advantage of lower cost rents. The school bus even comes and goes each day for the local kids. This felt as weird as the deer that we saw in the fields from the parking lot – the scenes just didn’t seem to fit with a maximum security prison!
Folsom Prison was originally designed to hold inmates serving long sentences, habitual criminals and incorrigibles, which led to them getting a reputation for having a violent and bloody beginning.
Interesting factoid – a new hanging rope was used for every hanging as they need to take into consideration the individuals height and weight to minimize swing, slack and ensure a quick death.
The variety of things that prisoners were able to turn into weapons is really impressive while also leaving you incredibly curious as to where they get pieces of metal in their day to day lives. There also seems to be an art to the smuggling of things into prison up your butt – ouch!
Folsom has a number of industries under the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) program, which includes administration, a Braille enterprise, a license plate factory where the inmates have been making 100% of the State of California license plates since before the 1930s, maintenance, metal fabrication, a printing plant, and a sign shop.
My question is where does an inmate get 250,000 toothpicks from??? Talk about impressive!
Johnny Cash made FSP widely known to the outside world through his song “Folsom Prison Blues” (1956), which narrated a fictional account of an outlaw’s incarceration, and the two live concerts he performed at FSP.
Overall it was a pretty cool place to visit and we learned a lot of interesting tidbits…
2 responses to “Folsom Prison Blues”
I would have liked to have been there with you. I remember Johnny Cash and liked all his songs. love Grandpa.
Glad to see you all were not admitted for a long stay
Keep on trucking