What is Folsom State Prison?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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Folsom State Prison is one of the oldest prisons in the state of California and was the first prison in the world to have electric power. Folsom State Prison was built shortly after the California Gold Rush and it quickly became known as a harsh place to spend a prison term. It is located in Folsom, California, not far from Sacramento, and California's license plates are manufactured there. Folsom State Prison is perhaps best known for hosting Johnny Cash during two concerts in the 1960s. One of the concerts was recorded and became a famous hit record for Cash. The prison is also known for housing some famous prisoners, including Charles Manson, musician Rick James, and Suge Knight.

Several well-known criminals have done time at Folsom State Prison, as it was one of the first maximum security prisons in the United States. The prison began housing mostly medium security prisoners in the latter part of the 20th century, but when it first opened, Folsom State Prison was known for its tight quarters, harsh living conditions, and maximum security. The prison was originally intended to house prisoners serving long terms, and prisoners who were especially difficult to control in other prisons. In its first forty years or so, several executions took place at the prison; prisoners were hanged when executed.


The prison has several vocational and rehabilitation programs designed to prepare prisoners for re-entry into society. Some programs include vocational classes and work in a furniture shop, graphic arts classes, other education courses, and metalwork, particularly in the license plate shop. Inmates can earn a high school GED and take English as a Second Language courses as well. A far cry from the harsh conditions in its early days, the prison today is often the setting for films and television shows and has appeared in other pop-culture media.

In the mid-1950s, Musician Johnny Cash wrote a song called "Folsom Prison Blues," which told the story of an inmate doing time at the prison. The song became very popular, and in the mid 1960s, Cash performed at Folsom State Prison to an enthusiastic crowd of prisoners. Two years later, Cash again performed at the prison, this time recording the show for an album called At Folsom Prison. The album was a hit, with songs off the album reaching number one on the country music charts. Folsom State Prison gained some less frightening notoriety thanks to the album, as well as a permanent place in pop-culture.


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Post 3

@cmsmith10- I just wanted to add that not all of the gangs are violent. KUMI members were involved in a beating in 2003, which led to the members being in lockdown for a long time. However, since then, the KUMI are considered much more peaceful.

Post 2

@boathugger- You are right about gangs being in every prison. Unfortunately, gang activity follows the individual wherever they go. However, some gangs are specifically formed in the prisons.

In Folsom State Prison, gang activity is high. Some of the gangs in Folsom are the Mexican Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood, KUMI 415, Jamiyyat U1, and Islam Is Saheeh. The KUMI 415 was founded inside the prison. They got the name of their gang by taking San Francisco’s area code, which is 415. Then, they added 415 together to get the number 10. KUMI is the Swahilii word for 10, hence the name KUMI 415.

Post 1

I have read somewhere that Folsom State Prison inmates were big into gang activity. I know that gangs are a problem in any correctional facility but I was wondering if it was worse at Folsom. Anyone have any input on this?

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