Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, 1968

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Anonymous, USA, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, 1968

I got married in 1968, just months after Johnny Cash created his most legendary performance at Folsom Prison in California. My wife’s brother was an inmate there at the time. He was one of the hardened criminals that was not allowed to be in the population during the performance. He was able to hear the concert though. I would like to show the letter that he wrote in the days following the concert, but it’s buried in a pile of papers. I remember reading how touched he was by the event though.

I remember one of the things he mentioned about Johnny Cash singing “Greystone Chapel” at the end of the concert. It was a song written by my brother-in-law’s friend, Glenn Sherley. He described Glenn as one of the nicest guys and he was just ecstatic for days following the concert because the legendary Johnny Cash basically immortalized him for singing his song. It was something that all of the inmates reveled in. Johnny Cash’s concert brought some cheer to lives of those inmates that day. Whether you think they deserve something like that or not is irrelevant. Johhny Cash looked at those men as humans who have made mistakes. He made mistakes in his life, too, so he could identify with those men. He didn’t judge them like everybody else had done.

I always wonder how many of those men were as touched as my brother-in-law was that day. He knew he was going to be in prison for possibly the rest of his life, but that day gave him hope that there was something more than just those same walls that he looked at everyday. As it turns out, he did end up being in jail for the rest of his life. He died recently while still serving his sentence. At his funeral, we played “Greystone Chapel” because, as he once put it, it inspired hope in a hopeless situation.

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