In 1953 I saw a movie entitled "Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison." I wrote the song the following year. It has been requested over the years along with "I Walk the Line" and a few of the others I've recorded.
I think prison songs are popular because most of us are living in one little kind of prison or another, and whether we know it or not the words of a song about someone who is actually in a prison speak for a lot of us who might appear not to be, but really are.
Telephone interview, Nov 6, 1973, reprinted in Dorothy Horstman, Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy, New York, 1976, p. 292.
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 at 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 prob'ly 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 on 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.