Music and Spirituality: Folsom Prison Blues

I've been doing prison ministry here at St. Ben's for a few months now, and I must say it's one of the greatest experiences I've had since being here. Sure I was nervous and hesitant to do it at first. In fact, I was a little concerned about what would happen to me if I showed up. What if they decide not to let me leave and lock me in!?

Obviously fears are fears and I overcame them to take part in this unique and fulfilling ministry. I find it fulfilling because I realize I share more with these guys than I could ever have imagined. Many of them grew up without a father and without a male role model as I did. Many of them come from poor homes, have experience with crime in their family, drugs, and dealing with hunger and extreme poverty. To live that life you have to be tough, and you can only trust yourself. You gotta hustle to get whatever you can, and you definitely cannot show weakness or let someone punk you out.

Many aspects of our lives are intertwined, and even though I'm here in Milwaukee because of religious life and they may be here to serve 16 months, for the people I meet at Bible Study in the MSDF (Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility) we have a lot in common.

When I think of the greatest examples of prison outreach, I immediately think of The Man in Black: Johnny Cash. Now I'm comfortable admitting that I really can't stand country music, but I own the At Folsom Prison CD. I own it for a specific reason, it's one of the most well-known examples of prison ministry.

After a living a life of drugs, fame, and trying to find what made him happy, Johnny Cash got sober and pitched the idea of a live recording at Folsom Prison to Columbia Records. He wasn't exactly the perfect image of a "good Christian," however his life, he change, and this outreach to the imprisoned reflect a lot of what I see in what I do. I don't see the album as a simple marketing at, I see it as the embodiment of Matt. 25:36 "I was naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."
Despite his rocky life, Johnny Cash found a way to live his life, find happiness, and express his faith in a way that touched millions of people. And while I've never been a fan of country music, I respect Johnny Cash and boldly proclaim myself a Cash fan.

I hear the train a comin'
It's rollin' 'round the bend,
And I ain't seen the sunshine,
Since, I don't know when,
I'm stuck in Folsom Prison,
And time keeps draggin' on,
But that train keeps a-rollin',
On down to San Antone.

When I was just a baby,
My Mama told me, "Son,
Always be a good boy,
Don't ever play with guns,"
But I shot a man in Reno,
Just to watch him die,
When I hear that whistle blowin',
I hang my head and cry.

I bet there's rich folks eatin',
In a fancy dining car,
They're probably drinkin' coffee,
And smokin' big cigars,
But I know I had it comin',
I know I can't be free,
But those people keep a-movin',
And that's what tortures me.

Well, if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine,
I bet I'd move out over a little,
Farther down the line,
Far from Folsom Prison,
That's where I want to stay,
And I'd let that lonesome whistle,
Blow my Blues away.

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1 Response to Music and Spirituality: Folsom Prison Blues

December 10, 2008 at 4:28 PM

I worked at St. Benedict the Moor from l957 to l965. At that time we had a hospital, grade school, high school, and were in charge of the County Jail and Morgue.
I had Mass in the women's section each Sunday and was given breakfast in jail, as were the servers at the Mass. On Saturdays I visited the men's section and heard confessions and gave advice, etc. and if they were pairshioned=rs (!) I made a visit to their homes the following week.
All for now. Joseph