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Johnny Cash and the Forgotten Prison Blues

25 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 12 January 2013

Did Johnny Cash have any real impact on prison reform in America?

Johnny Cash spotted Glen Sherley at Folsom Prison, as a talented musician and songwriter. Cash performed a song by Sherley on the Folsom live album and subsequently fought to have him released.

What became of Sherley? Was it realistic for Cash to attempt to rehabilitate an inmate in this way

A Johnny Cash concert at Österåker in Sweden was the only prison concert Cash ever performed outside America.

Whereas Cummins represented everything Cash wanted to change about American prisons, Stockholm’s Österåker prison represented everything he hoped they might become.

Life at Österåker in the late 1960s and 70s was as liberal as Cummins was harsh. Inmates could wear their own clothes, were on first name terms with wardens, could go out ‘on leave’ and have partners to stay for conjugal visits.

Was the Swedish liberal way any more successful than the American when it came to rehabilitating criminals?

(Image: Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash leave the front gate of Kansas State Prison, circa 1968, Credit: Hulton/Getty)


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