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A second chance for Johnny Cash's childhood home

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Courtesy of Arkansas State University

(Read caption) The home of country singing legend Johnny Cash in Dyess, Ark., before it was acquired by Arkansas State University. The university is heading a project to restore the house, where Cash grew up during the 1930s, as a historical site and tourist attraction.

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On a fine sunny day in late summer, a prison work gang is busy clearing litter from the grounds around Dyess City Hall in the heart of town, providing a portentous sign.

This settlement of just a few hundred, created during the Depression as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal project, is the childhood home to that well-known advocate of the incarcerated, country music legend Johnny Cash.

The figurative relevance of the low-risk prisoners (guilty of minor crimes), who are frequent visitors according to the Dyess mayor, runs deep.

Perhaps more than most places, Dyess, located in Mississippi County, Ark., a short drive west of the Mississippi River, is all about second chances: Back in the 1930s, the brand-new government colony was a second chance for the Cash family after the economic ravages of the Depression and the poverty of their former home in Kingsland, Ark. 

Today, Dyess is poised on the precipice of a second chance of its own.

Under the guidance of Arkansas State University, fund-raising and restoration is well under way in the settlement with the ultimate goal of returning rundown Dyess to some of its former glory – this time as a tourist attraction. One of the centerpieces, and almost certainly the biggest draw, is set to be Cash's boyhood home, a farmstead on the edge of town.

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