Mar 30 2016

Podcast: Johnny Cash, Prison Reformer, Part 2

As promised here’s part 2 of our Johnny Cash Podcast. You can listen to part 1 here.

In this edition, we focus on Johnny as a prison reformer. We discuss his 1972 testimony before the Senate. Below is an excerpt from his testimony:

“I have been in the entertainment business now for 16 years and shortly after I began, I performed my first concert at a prison at the request of the inmates at Huntsville, Tex., State Prison. I went from there to Folsom, to San Quentin, to Arkansas State Prison, and I met many fine men, inmates, and the personnel who run the prisons in all of these places. And I found over a period of 17 years, I believe that possibly 25 percent of the men behind the bars really need to be in a prison.

I think that with the program to cover the man from the time he is
arrested all the way through his trial, conviction, his prison sentence and his parole, that there will me many less men actually admitted to prison to serve prison terms, to become a part of this outturn, of this incubator for crime in the systems.

I have seen and heard of things at some of the concerts that would
chill the blood of the average citizen, but I think possibly the blood of the average citizen needs to be chilled in order for public apathy and conviction to come about because right now we have 1972 problems and 1872 jails. And like Governor Bumpers of Arkansas recently said, unless the public becomes aware and wants to and wants to help and becomes involved in prison reform and really cares, unless people begin to care, all of the money in the world will not help. Money cannot do the job. People have got to care in order for prison reform to come about.”

We hope you enjoy part 2 of the podcast.

Jul 08 2015

Life in Southern Prisons in late 19th Century

One of the recent additions to my prison artifact collection is an article by Isabel C. Barrows published in Harper’s Weekly in 1890. I was struck by the illustration that accompanies the article.

Harper's Weekly  (Aug 2, 1890)

Harper’s Weekly (Aug 2, 1890)

The following quote gives you a sense of the tone and tenor of the article:

“During the days of slavery there was comparatively little crime. The easy-go-luck nature of the uneducated and poorer whites was not ambitious enough to be criminal. The better educated were too well-bred to stoop to criminal life; and for the colored criminals the masters acted as court, judge, jury, and executioner. There was no well-developed ideas of meum and tuum in the negro’s brain, and if he sometimes inverted the possessive adjectives he met his punishment in the stroke of the overseer’s lash. If he were guilty of murder he might have to forfeit his life, and the State — some of them, at least — made good his loss to his master from the public treasury. Here and there a calaboose, and now and then a jail, comprised the chief provisions for criminals under the law, and State penitentiaries were almost unknown. […] Suddenly this stricken land finds six millions of people thrown upon it, of whom hundreds and thousands are soon culprits under the law. What should be done with them, without buildings to receive and house them? The States were at first almost palsied by the situation. When the proposition came to lease the convict labor it was regarded as the best and wisest thing under the circumstances.”

The article continues by pointing out the horrors of the convict lease system and recounting a visit that the author made to a convict camp.