On the side of the Residence Inn in Sacramento’s Midtown district, you’ll find a 15-story mural of Johnny Cash. Viewable from the L Street side of the block, the mural towers over the surrounding neighborhood, commanding the skyline and bringing warm, copper tones to the walls of Midtown’s burgeoning mural landscape.
Completed in 2018 by Shepard Fairey, the mural is a massively expanded and augmented version of a print the artist created in 2016 for his American Civics series. Fairey first rose to prominence as the artist behind the iconic “Hope” poster from the 2008 Presidential campaign of Barack Obama.
Cash’s gaze in the mural stares out toward Folsom Prison, the infamous state penitentiary just up the American River from Downtown Sacramento. The prison is deeply connected with Cash’s career.
The country music star played over 30 prison concerts in a 20-year timeframe, and produced both At San Quentin and At Folsom Prison in that period. But his interest in prisons went beyond playing within them—he also advocated for prison reform and better inmate treatment. In 1972, Cash testified in front of Congress about the horrible state of American prisons, saying that “the blood of the average citizen needs to be chilled … right now we have 1972 problems and 1872 jails…”
Fairey’s mural honors the 50th anniversary of At Folsom Prison. It’s also meant to encourage conversation about modern prison reform—2.3 million people are currently imprisoned within the United States, a level of incarceration much higher than anywhere else in the world.