THE NATIONAL BIG HOUSE PRISON MUSEUM
Building a better understanding of the Corrections profession
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DAILY PRISON LIFE
Folsom Prison History
A prison without walls best describes Folsom prior to 1923, such as can be seen from this photo taken from across the American River.
According to the Sacramento County Historical Society’s “Golden Notes” (Vol. 39, Numbers 3 and 4, 1993), “the prison yard occupied 52 acres of land, on mostly high ground. It was in the form of an irregular triangle, of which the river front was the longest side. At the time, the plan was to surround the yard with a wooden stockade, double-planked, and to utilize prison labor to construct around it a secure granite wall.”
In 1893, Folsom Telegraph editor Thaddeus McFarland visited the prison and wrote, “For a prison without walls, it is doubtful if any prisoner placed in Folsom Prison will ever escape. … It is likely he’ll remain there until the term of his sentence has expired.”
It took more than four decades for the prison to be surrounded by solid walls.