Johnny Cash, Prisoner Advocate

The BBC ran an article last week, "Johnny Cash and his prison reform campaign," about country singer Johnny Cash's advocacy work on behalf of prisoners. Cash toured many prisons, performing live for inmates, and gave evidence at a US Senate subcommittee on prison reform in 1972, speaking of the abuses prisoners he talked to had suffered.

Explaining why Cash was effective in his cries for prison reform, Danny Robbins writes "Cash successfully humanised the prison population and gave them a voice. He had a unique ability to get inside the heads of these forgotten and ignored men and understand the problems facing them – the roar from the inmate audience that can be heard on Live at San Quentin when he launches into the provocative angry title track is testimony to this." (A 30-second audio clip of Cash onstage at San Quentin is available to listen to next to the article.)

I think we need more of this overlap between arts and activism. Cash was able to bring hope to prisoners and relat their stories to people living on the outside, a necessary bridge if we are going to address the problems caused by mass incarceration and develop better, more empathic approaches to dealing with people who commit crimes.