Folsom State Prison, California

By Folsom State Prison

Another day and another adventure again, so with the parents and Sam we drove to another park. On the way, we got hungry and stopped by an Ihop near the 99 freeway and had some delicious pancakes and omelets. After that, we continued on following the freeway and exiting in Elk Grove and following the Grant Line Road to Folsom. We passed by endless fields, and about 20 miles we passed by the 50 freeway and entered Folsom.

We missed our first stop of Folsom Powerhouse so we went around and ended up crossing Johnny Cash’s bridge and turning right to California State Prison, Folsom. We drove in the small road leading to the parking lot. We parked and saw the gray walls of the prison and we walked to an officer and asked for direction to the museum. As we walk here is the start of history.

Folsom State Prison

“Folsom State Prison 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.

Welcome board

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 boilerplate 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.

We entered through the main gate, and immediately saw an old house on the right side, where it said “Folsom Prison Museum.” We walked around and wait for Dad and when he came we paid $2 per person for 12 and up. The caretaker was very welcoming and he told us he’s been working there for 49 years. We thanked him and started our self-tour.

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

Replica of a cell

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. Due to an incorrect record, it is often mistaken that there were 92 executions, but there were in fact 93.

Retired Correctional Peace Officers Museum at Folsom Prison

The building that house the museum has its own history since it was built even before the prison. It is originally built in the 1870s by the Natoma Water and Mining Company and so here goes its story.

“The land along the house was obtained by the state for a prison. The House was then used for staff employed by the prison. The staff and their families lived and worked on prion property. The last family to live in this house was Warden Joe Campy in 1982. 

The Museum has documentation indicating prison staff were living in this house dating back in 1906. The Museum also has photographs that show the house here in 1884.

John Fratis’ dad, also named John Fratis, was employed here at Folsom Prison on August 8,1929. He and his family lived on prison grounds. Years later, young John F. Fratis started on June 28, 1952, at Folsom Prison. He and his family lived in house #8 in 1963, 1964, and 1965. After John retired, he was instrumental in helping the Retired Correctional Peace Officers, (RCPO), Chapter established the Museum for the public to observe first-hand information on the day to day working living conditions in Folsom State Prison.

In 1975, the RCPO Museum at Folsom Prison was opened as part of the original prison gift shop which was operated by inmates. After some of the prison artifacts on display were removed by inmates the decision was made by retired Correctional Sergeant John F. Fratis in 1987 with the help of CCPOA to sponsor and move the Retired Correctional Peace Officers Museum to House #8 at Folsom Prison.”

Besides the old pictures and the wardens and famous convicts, there were also arts inside the museum. There were different crafts made by the convicts from sculpture to cars to a giant Ferris wheel made of toothpicks.

Ferris Wheel art

Ferris Wheel

Prisoner Billy Burk started constructing an 8 foot high Ferris wheel, completed 10 months later with over 250,000 toothpicks. He was discharged from Folsom Prison on April 4, 1934.

The on the very end was a replica of a prison cell while the entire room was filled with Johnny Cash memorabilia. The collections vary throughout his career, but the majority were from his concert in Folsom Prison. We took more pics and videos as we continue that story.

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.”

Johnny Cash’s song “Folsom Prison Blues” and the fact he performed there had elevated the prison to worldwide stardom. It was nice to see the history of the prison and how it was related to Johnny Cash.  After looking around and learning about the prison and Johnny Cash we bought some souvenirs and head out.

Outside there are still some remnants of old parts or structures related to the prison and here is some of the things we found.

Old Tower

Old Tower

Tower 10, was constructed on the banks of the American River in 1893, it was called the river tower by staff. It was constructed out of wood and had sleeping quarters below the tower for staff who were off duty.  In 2003 it was removed from the original base and moved to the lawn area next to the Museum. Only one section of the metal frame was used to place the tower in its present location.

Railroad Gate

Railroad Gate

A locomotive was purchased to be used on a short line railroad that had been constructed from the prison to the village of Folsom, for hauling supplies. In the early part of June 1893. In 1922 the walls around the prison were finally completed the autumn and guard towers erected at strategic points along its lengthy stretch.  

This was which was enclosed some 41 acres was built by convict labor exclusively. The wall took 38 years to complete. The railroad gate was removed in 2003 and placed on the museum lawn of November of the same year.

We took some more photos, but unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to come closer to the prison gate and take pictures, we were only allowed up to the giant rock. After that, we left and went to our next destination inside the city of Folsom.

Here is the link for more information:

Say Cheez!

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