On June 21, 1989, Johnny Cash was arrested and thrown into jail for an unspeakable crime.
The charge? He wore white socks.
As part of the American Cancer Society’s “Jailathon,” Cash sat in his “cell” at Henderson, Tenn. High School to raise money for charity. The society set Cash’s bail at $25,000 for “crimes against fashion,” according to United Press International. While some friends and fans donated to the jailathon to release Cash, others donated to extend his sentence.
“Some people are calling in making a donation but some are donating to keep me in. Kris Kristofferson donated $2,000 to keep me in,” Cash said.
Willie Nelson was among the friends that helped to free Cash, donating $1,000 to cancer research, as This Day in Country reported.
Johnny Cash wasn’t the only family member that received a sentence, either. His son, John Carter Cash, a 17-year-old aspiring musician at the time, stood in a cell alongside his father. Cash claimed that his son’s “rock n’ roll buddies” would help post his bail.
By the end of the event, the “Walk the Line” singer raised over $20,000 for the American Cancer Society, though some say he continued to wear white socks.
Johnny Cash, the Charitable Country Star
Ironically, the American Cancer Society’s Jailathon was just one of the jails that Johnny Cash visited. In fact, the country star frequently performed at prisons and became a dedicated spokesperson for prison reform.
According to BBC, Cash added prison venues to his “Man in Black” tour free of charge and continued to sing for prisoners for 30 years of his music career. He even recorded some of his live albums in corrections facilities.
Tommy Cash, the country star’s youngest brother, claimed that his brother felt a personal connection with prisoners.
“He identified with the prisoners because many of them had served their sentences and had been rehabilitated in some cases, but were still kept there the rest of their lives,” Tommy said. “He felt a great empathy with those people.”
Johnny Cash became the face of prisoners’ rights during the 60’s and 70’s, addressing the U.S. Senate and retelling the tragic stories he heard from men behind bars.
However, without Cash’s classic outlawed-hardened-man demeanor, it’s likely his efforts wouldn’t have been as successful. In his song, “Folmer Prison Blues,” Cash sings, “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” According to Cash’s former drummer, W.S. “Fluke” Holland, fans thought the country star sang from experience.
“There’s people today that you can talk to and they will believe that he actually did that,” Holland said before emphasizing that the only time Cash ever spent in prison was “when we played in them.”