By Gilbert Garcia
A couple of weeks ago, a British-made documentary of Johnny Cash's legendary 1969 concert at San Quentin aired for the first time in the United States, on Trio. In this fascinating film, we see an animated Cash tear through a set of his classics for one of the most adoring audiences he ever encountered. The Man in Black gently tweaks the guards, sings a song about San Quentin from the perspective of a prisoner, and puts extra fire into his outlaw tale, "Folsom Prison Blues." Without ever condoning the acts that put these men behind bars, Cash seems to say - without ever really saying it - that everyone is deserving of compassion and capable of redemption.
By that time, Cash had tangible proof of this theory. A decade earlier, he had performed at San Quentin for an audience that included a young troublemaker named Merle Haggard. The performance so inspired Haggard, that when he completed his three-year prison stint in 1962, he embarked on one of the greatest careers in the history of country music.