It’s a Cash bash

By: Roger Phelps, The Telegraph
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A birthday celebration for Johnny Cash will feature an author who has chronicled the institution that Cash made iconic — Folsom State Prison. “Folsom Prison,” by local resident and retired corrections lieutenant Jim Brown, is doing well in stores after its release in September by Arcadia Publishing, Brown said. The Friends of Folsom Library will host Brown and Cash impersonator Johnny Reno at the library, 411 Stafford St., on Saturday, Feb. 28. Cash’s birthday is officially Feb. 26. Brown will speak and will autograph copies of “Folsom Prison” while Reno will perform Cash tunes. The cover of Brown’s book shows a boxing match in the prison’s ring. Brown, now 62, heard Cash perform his last of three Folsom Prison concerts, in 1971, at that same ring. “They set up the boxing ring in front of the old R&R building,” Brown said. “Inmates came out the day prior to the concert, taking string and laying out their corners on the grass. For that many people, everybody got along — no problems on the yard that day. It was a short time to be away from the prison. Guys who wouldn’t sit near one another in the dining room, the only thing separating them was a little piece of string.” Brown will appear Saturday at 1 p.m., with Johnny Reno up at 2:30 p.m., said Julie Rinaldi, adult-services librarian. “We will bust out a large birthday cake,” Rinaldi said. Brown heads his chapters with the titles, “Breakin’ Rocks in the Hot Sun,” “Prison Life” and “Modern Times.” He chronicles desperate escape attempts, shootings of inmates, the 15-pound “Oregon Boot” ankle shackle that some men wore instead of the 25-pound chain and cannonball shackle and other grim details of Folsom’s penal history. The book also records light trivia, such as the visit to the prison in 1939 of World’s Tallest Man Robert Wadlow, who was just under nine feet tall. These days Brown is working on “The Legend Begins,” which takes the history of the local prison area, the quasi-town called Represa, from an early time — “from the very beginning,” he said. “The Spaniards built the first dam in about the place we built our dam,” Brown said. “Look it up — in Spanish, ‘Represa’ is ‘dam.’” Brown’s work as a corrections officer gave him access to historic records. “I’ve got records on inmates from 1873 to 1946 in the original ledgers,” he said. Brown took writing courses in college, but it wasn’t easy to move from law-enforcement “report” style to prose, he said. “My English 1A prof at Sac City College looks at me and says, “You’re a cop,’ right there in class in front of everybody,” Brown said. “I said, ‘I just put down the facts (but) I’m not a police officer.’ He gave me an A-plus, and I said, ‘Is this recorded — you can’t change it?’ He said yes. I said, ‘Listen (expletive), I’m a prison guard.’” Brown said he credits the historical novels of James Michener with giving him a feel for the importance of chronicling the past. == Birthday celebration at Folsom Library Saturday, Feb. 28, Folsom Library, 411 Stafford St. 1 p.m. Book signing and talk by Jim Brown 2:30 p.m. Live performance by Johnny “Cash” Reno Info: