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Folsom State Prison

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Ron Rackley


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+1 916-985-2561

26 July 1880

Folsom State Prison

Folsom, California, U.S.

2,351 (113.8%) (as of 30 November 2016)

300 Prison Rd, Represa, CA 95671, USA

Inmate killed during riot at new folsom state prison

Folsom State Prison (FSP) is a California State Prison in Folsom, California, U.S., approximately 20 mi (30 km) northeast of the state capital of Sacramento. It is one of 33 prisons operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


Opened 137 years ago in 1880, Folsom is the state's second-oldest prison, after San Quentin, and the first in the United States to have electricity. Folsom was also one of the first maximum security prisons, and as such witnessed the execution of 93 condemned prisoners over a 42-year period.

Folsom is probably best known in popular culture for concerts performed at the facility by musician Johnny Cash, particularly in 1968, when the two shows of January 13 were made into a live album. He had written and recorded the song "Folsom Prison Blues" over a decade earlier.

New folsom prison all access pass


Both FSP and California State Prison, Sacramento (SAC) share the mailing address: Represa, CA 95671. Represa (translated as "dam" from the Spanish language) is the name given in 1892 to the State Prison post office because of its proximity to a dam on the American River that was under construction at the time. The dam was replaced in 1955 by the Folsom Dam.

As of March 2012, the facility's total population was 2,912, or 117.9 percent of its design capacity of 2,469.

The facility includes 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 a toilet, sink, bunks, and storage space for inmate possessions.

Prison facilities also include two dining halls, a large central prison exercise yard, and two smaller exercise yards. The visiting room includes an attached patio as well as space for non-contact visits.


FSP is California's second-oldest prison, long known for its harsh conditions in the decades following the California Gold Rush. Although FSP now houses primarily medium security prisoners, it was one of America's first maximum-security prisons.

Construction of the facility began in 1878, on the site of the Stony Bar mining camp along the American River. The prison officially opened in 1880 with a capacity of 1,800 inmates; they spent most of their time in the dark, behind solid boiler plate doors in stone cells measuring 4 by 8 ft (1.2 by 2.4 m) with 6-inch (15 cm) eye slots. Air holes were drilled into the cell doors in the 1940s, and the cell doors are still in use today.

FSP was the first prison in the world to have electric power, which was provided by the first hydroelectric powerhouse in California.

After the state of California took sole control of the death penalty in 1891, executions were held at Folsom and San Quentin. A total of 93 prisoners were hanged at FSP between December 13, 1895, and December 3, 1937. Subsequent executions were carried out in the gas chamber at San Quentin.

FSP industries include metal fabrication and a print shop, and the quarry at FSP provided granite for the foundation of the state capitol building and much of the gravel used in the early construction of California's roads. Additionally, California's vehicle license plates have been manufactured at FSP since the 1930s.

In 1968, Johnny Cash played a concert at the prison. Each attending prisoner lived in his own cell and nearly all were in an education program or learning a trade. Most of the attending prisoners who were released did not return to prison after being released.

Laura Sullivan of National Public Radio said that the costs of housing prisoners "barely registered" in the state's budget. In 2009, Folsom was overcrowded, with 4,427 inmates. Around that year most of its prisoners who were released returned to prison after being released.

California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA)

California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) program includes administration, a Braille enterprise, a license plate factory where the inmates have been making California license plates since before the 1930s, maintenance, metal fabrication, a printing plant, and a sign shop.


The Vocational Inmate Program formerly included auto body and fender, auto mechanics, building maintenance, electronics, graphic arts, janitorial, landscape gardening, masonry, mill and cabinet, office services, and welding. Half of these programs have been eliminated due to budget cuts in 2010.


The Academic Inmate Program includes Adult Basic Education, High School/GED, English as a Second Language, a literacy program, Computer Assisted Instruction.

Folsom Women’s Facility

In January 2013 the Folsom Women’s Facility, a standalone section for women, opened. The northernmost women's prison in the CDCR, the facility has space for 403 women. As of 2013 25% of the women were Hispanic. The prison houses low risk prisoners.

Escape attempts

Folsom was one of the first maximum-security prisons in the United States. Prior to the completion of its granite wall in the 1920s, the prison saw numerous escape attempts; the first occurred shortly after the first inmates arrived in the 1880s. Throughout Folsom's violent and bloody history, numerous riots and escape attempts have resulted in both inmate and staff deaths.

1920 Prison train attempt

In 1920, three convicts hijacked a prison train that was used to move materials and smashed it through a prison gate to escape.

1932 Dummy used in escape

On June 16, Dwight E. Abbott, 24, a Los Angeles robber, escaped from Folsom by making a lifelike dummy. The dummy was cleverly made to look real enough with Abbott's own hair, that of his cellmate, and a plaster of Paris face, to fool the guards until late the next day. This, according to the Warden, was seen in his bed and deceived the guards until general lock-up.

1932 Diving suit attempt

An inmate, Carl Reese, tried to escape in 1932 using a diving suit fashioned from a football bladder, a goggle lens, and other scrounged materials. According to Floyd Davis, a prison guard of 13 years who continued to volunteer at the museum after his retirement, the inmate only made one mistake: he didn't make his breathing tube long enough and ended up drowning in the power house mill pond. Guards had to drain the pond to recover the inmate's body.

September 19, 1937

Approximately 40 inmates had been waiting to talk to Warden Clarence Larkin concerning upcoming parole hearings when seven of the inmates suddenly attacked him. As they took him into the yard, other guards started firing. In the commotion that followed, Officer Harry Martin and Warden Larkin were both stabbed to death. Officer Martin died at the scene, and Warden Larkin died of his wounds five days later.

The inmates involved in the attack were said to have attacked the Warden and the officer with shanks (prison-made knives). Also, a prison-made wooden semiautomatic pistol was found; it was carved and meant for use in the attack.

One of the seven inmates who attempted to escape was wanted for the murder of Officer James Hill, of the Marlow, Oklahoma Police Department, on April 20, 1931.

Two of the escaping inmates were fatally shot during the incident. The remaining five were all sentenced to death and eventually executed in late 1938. Two suspects, including the one who had murdered Officer Hill, were executed in the gas chamber on December 2. Two others were executed on December 9, and the leader of the group was executed on December 16.

June 5, 1987

Inmate Glen Stewart Godwin's notable escape earned him a spot on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

In 1987, Godwin attempted to escape during his incarceration at Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, California, and he was moved to the maximum-security Folsom State Prison. Authorities believe Godwin's wife, Shelly Rose Godwin, and his former cellmate in Deuel, Lorenz Karlic, helped to plan his escape.

A hacksaw and other tools had been smuggled into the prison for Godwin. On June 5, 1987, he cut a hole through fence wire and escaped into a storm drain that emptied into the American River. Godwin dropped through a manhole and crawled 750 feet through the pitch black drain. Either Godwin's wife or his accomplice Karlic had left a raft that Godwin used to float down the river, following painted arrows on rocks that directed him where to go.

In June 1987, Karlic was arrested in Hesperia, California, and convicted for aiding Godwin's escape.

In January 1988, Shelly Godwin was classified as a federal fugitive for her role in her husband's escape. The FBI captured her in Dallas, Texas, on February 7, 1990. Godwin was arrested in Mexico in 1991 but escaped again from a prison in Guadalajara in September of that year and remains at large.

October 19, 2010

Two minimum-security inmates, Jeffrey William Howard, 43, and Garrett Daniel Summet, 34, escaped from Folsom on October 19, 2010.

Prison spokesman Lt. Anthony Gentile did not elaborate on the circumstances of how the men got away, only saying that the two men fled from the prison's Minimum Support Facility, and that the escape was discovered when the two failed to report to their work areas.

Folsom State Prison correctional staff and CDCR's Office of Correctional Safety agents initiated escapee apprehension efforts. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, local law enforcement agencies, and the California Highway Patrol joined the search for the two men, who were apprehended in Inglewood, CA on November 22, 2010.

Violent incidents

In 1937, Warden Clarence Larkin, was stabbed during an escape attempt and died from his wounds.

During the 1970s and 1980s violence at Folsom peaked, when the Aryan Brotherhood and other prison gangs made prisons increasingly dangerous. The establishment of Secure Housing Units, first at California State Prison, Sacramento, and later at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, and California State Prison, Corcoran, did much to control gang-related violence.

On August 27, 2010, seven federal inmates at Folsom were admitted to a hospital after corrections officers discharged firearms during a riot involving 200 inmates. None of the inmates' injuries were life-threatening, and no corrections officers were injured during the incident.

On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, a fight erupted in one of the yards, shortly after 11:00 a.m. No prison staffers are believed injured and the fight was eventually broken up by the prison guards (using less-than-lethal force), but one inmate was shot and at least ten other inmates had stab or slash wounds, authorities stated (they were treated at area hospitals).

Johnny Cash

Singer 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 through the two live concerts he performed at FSP. The first was in 1966; the more famous, held on January 13, 1968 in the FSP cafeteria, was recorded as the album At Folsom Prison. Cash later said the FSP inmates "were the most enthusiastic audience I have ever played to." The "Folsom Prison Blues" single from that album was #1 on the country music chart for four weeks, and the album was on the top 200 pop album chart for 122 weeks. A 40th-anniversary tribute concert was to take place in the same cafeteria at FSP on January 13, 2008, with a special appearance by Cash's original drummer W.S. "Fluke" Holland. The original plans were to stream the concert over the Internet, with four nonprofit groups underwriting the show and sharing in any proceeds from the show. However, a few days before the concert was to occur, it was canceled in a dispute over filming rights, media access, and security concerns.


FSP has been the location of a number of feature films, including Riot in Cell Block 11, American Me, The Jericho Mile, Another 48 Hrs., Diggstown, parts of Walk the Line (a biographical film of Johnny Cash), and Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison.


The Folsom Prison Gang is a Johnny Cash tribute band on the East coast.

Public works

On the M-5 freeway in Farmington Hills, MI, two service drives – named Folsom and Freedom – are adjacent to the eastbound and westbound sides respectively. Their positioning symbolizes the idea that Folsom, as in Folsom State Prison, is a place that is the opposite of freedom.

Notable prisoners

  • Sonny Barger, former leader of the Hells Angels.
  • Edward Bunker, author of crime fiction, a screenwriter, and an actor.
  • Thor Nis Christiansen, was a serial killer and necrophile active in California in the mid-to-late 1970s. He was killed by a single stab wound in the exercise yard in 1981.
  • Eldridge Cleaver, early leader of the Black Panther Party.
  • George Contant, train robber; later lectured against crime, brother of John Sontag.
  • Chris Evans, train robber, partner of John Sontag.
  • Joseph Gamsky, aka Joe Hunt, of the Billionaire Boys Club.
  • Glen Stewart Godwin, whose escape from Folsom earned him a spot on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
  • Cameron Hooker, convicted of the Kidnapping of Colleen Stan.
  • Rick James, musician.
  • Edmund Kemper, the "Co-Ed Killer"; was a serial killer and necrophile active in California in the early 1970s.
  • Suge Knight, owner of Death Row Records.
  • Timothy Leary, psychologist and writer.
  • Charles Manson, murderer, conspirator
  • Erik Menendez, convicted with his brother Lyle of murdering his parents.
  • James Mitose, Japanese-American martial artist who brought the art of Kempo to the United States.
  • Ed Morrell, accomplice to the Evans-Sontag railroad robbers of the 1890s.
  • Ricky Murdock, rapper known by the stage name Askari X.
  • Bobby Purify, original singer of "I'm Your Puppet".
  • Shorty Rossi, star of the Animal Planet show Pit Boss.
  • Leo Ryan, U.S. Congressman who while an Assemblyman had posed as a prisoner to investigate conditions.
  • Glen Sherley, musician.
  • Danny Trejo, actor.
  • References

    Folsom State Prison Wikipedia

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