10 Fascinating Things You Didn’t Know About Folsom State Prison

The Fascinating History of Folsom Prison You Never Knew

Folsom Prison is California’s second oldest prison, after San Quentin. It was specifically designed to deal with the tremendous overpopulation in the first one. It was in 1858 that the California legislature decided they needed a second prison. However, it took almost ten more years for the location to be settled near Folsom and the American River. Folsom Prison has a rich history and many interesting facts, which we will review in this post, and perhaps you’ll learn something new today!

10 Things You Should Know About Folsom State Prison

Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues and the live album At Folsom Prison have made the prison famous worldwide. You may be familiar with the song’s lyrics, but you might not know that a fascinating century of jail history is waiting to be discovered.

Here are ten interesting things, stories, and facts about Folsom Prison.

Every California License Plate is Made at Folsom Prison

Administration, Braille, maintenance, printing, metal fabrication, and even license plate manufacturing have all been run by inmates since before the 1930s at the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA). The Folsom State Prison license plate factory produced every single California license plate. One hundred sixteen convicts are employed at the license plate factory, and it’s no easy task.

Between 40,000 and 65,000 plates, as well as roughly 2,000 specialty and legacy plates, are produced daily by the prisoners. Through this work, convicts are given a chance to enhance their education and get experience working with others while acquiring work experience and certificates.

Folsom Prison Has Housed Its Share of Celebrities

Folsom Prison has been the home to many famous names among its inmates, including prominent artists, actresses, record label executives, and even some well-known convicted felons. They range from celebrities such as musicians and actors to notorious criminals.

On the list of renowned people who have spent time in Folsom Prison are:

  • Artist and musician Rick James
  • Danny Trejo (actor).
  • Suge Knight (owner of Death Row Records.
  • Erik Menendez (along with his brother Lyle) was found guilty of murdering their parents and sentenced to life in prison.
  • Shorty Rossi (host of the show Pit Boss on Animal Planet.)
  • Charles Manson (killer, conspirator).

Folsom Prison Sits On Top of a Gold Mine

Near the end of the California Gold Rush of 1878, building on Folsom Prison began. The current Folsom Prison now stands near the American River, where dozens of mining camps had previously produced millions of dollars worth of gold.

In the early years, the correctional officers who worked there spent most of their leisure time panning the sand for gold flakes because the area was still veined with enormous amounts of precious gold.

There Were No Walls At Folsom Prison For Over 20 Years

The Folsom State Prison did not have the typical prison security measures, such as barbed fences or barricades to prevent inmates from escaping. For the first 40 years, the prison had no walls at all. In the event of an escape attempt or disruption within the jail, the only protection the inmates had was the presence of correctional guards in towers armed with rifles. However, work on the prison’s granite walls began in 1909 and continued until 1923.

Folsom Prison Revived Johnny Cash’s Career

Country music fans from the 1950s and later will be familiar with Johnny Cash. The inmates at Folsom Prison were treated to multiple performances by him because of his fame, with the first one being in 1966 and two others in 1968. Johnny Cash’s “Prison Blues” was inspired by the 1950s prison film “Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison.”

California Owes The Success of Its Fruit Industry To Folsom Prison

In most people’s minds, prison is not the place to find an ice plant. However, between the years 1890 and 1900, Folsom State Prison manufactured ice. In order to keep up with demand, the California State Assembly allocated $162,000 to the prison to buy additional ice-making equipment. As a result of the ice plant within the prison, California was able to send its fresh fruit product to the rest of the United States without worrying about it going bad on the way there.

Because of the ice-cooled freight cars, these fruits could be shipped throughout the country. Growers in the Golden State sent $12 million worth of oranges across the country in 1909, and that sum exploded to $100 million by 1930.

Folsom Prison is a Movie Star In Its Own Right

Over the years, Folsom Prison has maintained its place in the cultural consciousness by serving as the setting for a number of films. Among the films that have used the famous facility are:

  • Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)
  • Another 48 Hours (1990)
  • Heat (1995)
  • Diggstown (1992)
  • American Me (1992)
  • The Jericho Mile (1979)
  • Walk the Line (2005)
  • Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951)

Folsom State Prison Was Established In Exchange For Labor

Folsom also constructed a dam on the American River close to the jail grounds (even before the Folsom Dam). Construction of the dam began in 1867, so forestry operations could continue uninterrupted. The builders employed inmates to excavate the granite blocks used in the construction from the Folsom Prison grounds. After three million feet of logs were washed over the dam due to persistent rainfall in 1899, the sawmill and the dam had to be shut down.

Folsom Prison Was Harsher During Its Early Years

Like any other jail, Folsom has experienced its fair share of violence and deaths. The state put ninety-seven people to death by hanging in Folsom between 1895 and 1937. During an attempted breakout in 1937, inmates gunned down Warden Clarence Larkin and Officer Harry Martin. Numerous inmates lost their lives due to the escalation of violence in Folsom Prison in the 1970s and 1980s.

Also, the first cells at Folsom Prison were basically only 8 feet by 4 feet of stone with an iron door. Inmates had to ration candles and oil lamps to keep warm and see in their cells during winter. The iron door had a single window measuring 6″ by 2.”

For a While, Folsom Prison Was Folsom’s Community Hub

The city of Folsom had ties to the penitentiary even before Johnny Cash made it famous nationally. Because of its tiny size, the Officer’s and Guards’ quarters at Folsom Prison served as the epicenter of the town.

In the early 20th century, convicts in jail put on shows for their fellow inmates, the prison personnel, and members of the surrounding community. Festivities honoring the Fourth of July and sporting events were also not uncommon.