Serial killers, stabbings and suicides – dark truth of jail that inspired song

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It inspired the ultimate jailhouse anthems, but the truth behind California's Folsom State Prison is about as dark as it gets.

The prison became famous after hosting singer-songwriter Johnny Cash for two concerts in the 1960s.

One of the concerts gave Johnny Cash one of his best loved hits, Folsom Prison Blues, but it is also infamous for hosting high profile criminals such as Charles Manson, musician Rick James, and Suge Knight.

Brit Jamie Morgan Kane also spent time there. And it's fair to say it left its mark.

He has spent of his life behind some of the toughest American prison bars, after pleading guilty to first degree murder in 1984.

He denies committing the murder, instead believing he was framed and found the dead man already in his home before disposing of the body.

Now 68, and free after 34 years a prisoners, he's released a gritty book titled Behind The Granite Walls.

It goes into startling and graphic detail about what really goes on behind the bars.

Speaking frankly, Jamie shared that he can't even listen to the famous song attached to the prison without vivid flashbacks to experience, emotions and smells.

Describing a 'heavy cloak of despair, sadness and fear' hanging in the air, Jamie goes on to describe some of the most horrifying moments he witness inside.

Jamie, who now lives in Ryton, Gateshead, was held in Folsom twice, adding up to almost six and a half years, he recalls Folsom as a "a truly awe-inspiring castle-like image" upon first glance.

Reflecting on his first look, he penned in his book: "It was positioned in the remains of a granite quarry where you could find the stone Folsom Black Granite which was used to build the walls.

"These walls are impressive when you drive up to them on a prison bus, and help give Folsom a truly awe-inspiring castle-like image. It is said they are not only 26 feet tall to prevent anyone scaling them, but also 26 feet deep, so you weren’t likely to tunnel out either.

"When I worked up on China Hill, during my second time at Folsom, I would have the opportunity to get right up close to the wall and was amazing to find that inmates had carved their names and the dates they were there in some of the stones. The walls were about five feet thick and each of the stones weighed around 500-800 pounds.

"Yet every single stone was cut and shaped by convict blood, sweat and tears, using primarily hand tools."

While the exterior was a stark reminder of how previous inmates had worked and lived, the true horror of the prison lay inside. Jamie continued: "Guards with guns, both on the perimeter walls and in the cell blocks, and the gun walks which encircled the cells. These were places where mirth and merriment were never seen.

"The heavy cloak of despair, sadness and fear hung in the air. You could taste it. The weight could be seen on the shoulders of most inmates and staff.

"I have always felt it was the cold and bleakness of those granite walls that led to the same cold, bleak demeanour of the inmate and staff. It was as if the longer you were there, life was sucked out of you and some guards who had worked there 25-30 years were little more than shells of whom they may once have been.

"Except for two parts of the song Prison Blues, every time I hear that song, I have flashbacks to backs to events, feelings and even smells. I doubt I will ever lose the mark it made on me, though, unlike many I survived, got out and didn't let it define me."

Perhaps one of the most terrifying parts, marking Folsom as one of the toughest prisons, is the behaviour of many of the inmates – violent and volatile.

Jamie revealed, that during his first confinement in the prison: "Five guys had been stabbed to death by other inmates, placed on dollies, rolled back under vehicles, which were then lowered down onto their chests. Most of these guys were killed over drug or gambling debts."

After witnessing an argument over cigarettes, used as currency inside and with one unfortunate inmates in debt, he witnessed another prisoner throw the inmate over a safety railing on one of the high tiers: falling to his death. Jamie shared in his book that plenty jumped themselves over fears of being stabbed, owing debts or simply because they had lost hope of getting out.

At another event, he recalled winning a game of cards which lead to a man stabbing his own brother after the pair lost.

One of the most disturbing revelations found in Behind The Granite Walls, shares Jamie's interactions with the Manson Family cult – particularly Charles Manson’s’ right hand man, Charles ‘Tex’ Watson. Watson, who was denied parole for the 18th time last year, met Jamie at California Men's Colony prison and the pair knew each other for seven years.

Behind The Granite Walls, published by Mirror Books £8.99, is on sale now and can be bought on Amazon.

Jamie is also the author of 34 Years In Hell, another Mirror Books publication that goes into greater detail about his interactions with Charles Manson.

  • Murder
  • Prison News
  • Crime

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