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39 Songs About Going to Jail or Prison

FlourishAnyway believes there is a playlist for just about any situation and is on a mission to unite and entertain the world through song.

Are you a prisoner of love, a prisoner of your own mind, or have you served time behind bars?  Make a playlist of pop, rock, and country songs about serving your sentence.  Then resolve to be free.

Are you a prisoner of love, a prisoner of your own mind, or have you served time behind bars? Make a playlist of pop, rock, and country songs about serving your sentence. Then resolve to be free.

We've All Been a Prisoner of Something

If you've done time in the slammer, then you already know that the jails are overflowing. With one in 100 American adults serving jail time, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Apparently, we love to lock people up.

Even if you haven't done time behind bars, you can probably identify with the feelings of being a prisoner. Everyone's probably been a prisoner of something in their lives—whether love, money, addiction, their lifestyle, or poor choices.

Make yourself a prison playlist of pop, rock, and country songs as you cherish your freedom and vow never to repeat the sins of the past.

Reader Poll

1. "I Fought the Law" by The Clash

When the guy in this zippy 1979 rock song had no money, he tried robbery, but he was terrible at it because he got caught. So now, he's tucked away in prison breaking rocks for a living and missing the woman he loves. He's learning about behavior and consequences the hard way.

2. "Chains" by Nick Jonas

Sometimes brick-and-mortar jails lock people up, but at other times it's love that holds them hostage. The guy in this 2014 pop song can't break the chains of attraction that bind him to his lover. No matter how hard he tries to resist her, he finds himself a repeat offender.

3. "Jailhouse Rock" by Elvis Presley

Named by Rolling Stone as one of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, this 1957 song by the legendary King of Rock n' Roll was an international hit. It depicts a prison dance party hosted by the warden and brought to life by the prison band.

The reference to prison romance was inadvertently overlooked by the censors as well as many listeners at the time:

Number forty seven said to number three
"Well, you're the cutest jailbird I ever did see
I sure would be delighted with your company
Come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me."

4. "Prison Song" by System of a Down

According to this 2001 hard rock song, the War on Drugs has failed. It has filled our prisons with minor drug offenders rather than rehabilitating them. Meanwhile, the richer, more powerful drug kingpins remain unpunished and their reach remains unchecked.

Musicians Who Have Been to Prison or Jail

Some of these folks were jailed on additional occasions not listed. No one said being a musician was easy.

Funk icon James Brown spent six years in prison for aggravated assault and evading police in an interstate police chase

R&B singer Lauryn Hill spent three months in federal prison and did three months of home confinement for tax evasion

Ike Turner, R&B singer and abusive ex-husband of Tina Turner, served 17 months in prison for drug offenses

Former rapper and current movie star and producer Mark Wahlberg spent 45 days in jail as a teenager after he beat a middle-aged Vietnamese man with a stick

Vince Neil of Motley Crue spent 15 days in jail for vehiclular manslaughter and DUI

Boy George of 1980s Culture Club fame served four months in jail for false imprisonment of an escort and promising to give the man what he deserved using whips and other devices

Justin Bieber served 24 hours in jail after being charged with DUI, resisting arrest, driving with an expired license, and underage drinking

As a teenager, Barry White stole $30,000 in Cadillac tires and spent 4 months in the slammer

Ozzy Osbourne spent six weeks in jail for shoplifting as a teen. He also spent several hours in jail and released on $40 bail after publicly urinating on the monument to The Alamo while dressed in his wife's clothes

Country singer David Allan Coe was in and out of jail since a juvenile and once killed a man in prison for making an unwelcome sexual advance

Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys punched a bar bouncer and went to jail for a few hours until he could be released on bail

Rick James served one year in jail for draft evasion and three years in prison for kidnapping and torturing two women

Glen Campbell served 10 days in jail for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident

Johnny Paycheck shot a man in a bar and served less than two years in prison. Earlier in his career, in the military he punched a superior officer and spent time in military prison.

George Michaels served four weeks in prison for DUI

Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder spent the night in jail for public drunkenness and disturbing the peace

Johnny Cash served a three day suspended sentence for drug possession after returning from a trip from Mexico as a young man

Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong served eight days in jail for a DUI convinction

4. "Still Doing Time" by George Jones

So you get caught cheating on your lover—twice, no less—and she rightly leaves your sorry behind. Where do you have left to go but the local honky tonk to drink your sorrows away, serving penance for your sins?

Full of regret, this 1981 country classic is pure George Jones. However, if you're looking for an updated rendition, look up the version by country singer Jamey Johnson. It will make you think the Possum has come back from the grave.

6. "My Own Prison" by Creed

Creed's first single, this rock song from 1997 features a narrator who overdosed and thus created his own prison. He faces a trial before God on Judgement Day and awaits his verdict which has no appeal.

Modern chain gangs are called work groups.  They don't wear chains and work under close supervision of a guard picking up trash or performing other work of community benefit.

Modern chain gangs are called work groups. They don't wear chains and work under close supervision of a guard picking up trash or performing other work of community benefit.

7. "Chain Gang" by Sam Cooke

Chain gangs are the unlikely topic of this 1960 rock hit. The narrator is part of a prison work group shackled together and performing menial work under the hot sun. He is thirsty and thinks about how much he wishes he could be with his sweetheart.

A hold-over of slavery, chain gangs were a type of penal labor mostly employed in the American South until the mid-1950s. There was a brief revival of the practice in the 1990s in some states with the push to get tough on crime.

Traditional chain gangs chipped rocks or dug ditches, whereas the modern work groups of prisoners that you likely see on roadsides are not chained together. They often pick up trash or perform other duties under supervision.

8. "Back On The Chain Gang" by The Pretenders

The Pretenders recorded this 1982 rock song as a tribute to their guitarist who had recently passed away due to a drug overdose. The tune refers to one of the group having left the chain gang while the others stay behind to complete the hard labor.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.  About 1 in 5 of offenders are locked up for a drug offense.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. About 1 in 5 of offenders are locked up for a drug offense.

9. "Mama Tried" by Merle Haggard

I wanted some diversity of artists on this playlist, of course, so I couldn't put all of Merle Haggard's prison-themed songs on it. However, I am including this 1968 country favorite.

The Hag makes it clear that for all his wrongdoings, it wasn't his mama's fault. She raised a rebel son alone, took him to church, and worked countless hours to provide for him. Despite her best efforts, her wayward son "turned 21 in prison doing life without parole." That poor woman.

10. "Locked Up" by Akon

The radio (i.e., clean) version of this Akon R&B hit from 2004 is meaningful, as the narrator reflects on his imprisonment. Locked up, he feels left out and forgotten:

Can't wait to get out and move forward with my life,
Got a family that loves me and wants me to do right
But instead I'm here locked up.

11. "Prisoner" by The Weeknd (featuring Lana Del Rey)

Prison isn't always a place. Sometimes it's a habit, a state of mind, a lifestyle. The narrator in this 2015 rock tune feels that fame is a prison that simultaneously attracts and traps:

I’m a prisoner to my addiction
I’m addicted to a life that’s so empty and so cold
I’m a prisoner to my decisions.

12. "Ol' Red" by Blake Shelton

The ol' country boy in this 1990 song is a smart convict who became BFFs with the warden, thus being given the job of watching the prison's bloodhound. The convict knew that the dog was an excellent tracker but wouldn't be able to resist the natural allure of a lady dog. With clever planning and a little luck, the the prisoner hatched a plan to distract the dog, and he ran free.

13. "Billy Austin" by Steve Earle & The Dukes

The narrator in this 1991 song is a career criminal and convicted killer. As he faces his final hours for gunning down a man at a gas station, he tries to turn the tables on the listener and ask tough questions about race, poverty, and the justice system. To me, it seems a little late to be asking those questions though.

14. "Rusty Cage" by Soundgarden

The rusty cage that has imprisoned the narrator in this 1991 rock song is a bad drug habit which he is determined to break free from. He describes the leads and chains which bind him with anguish. Now he is prepared to run free.

15. "High Cost of Living" by Jamey Johnson

From a prison cell, a recovering drug addict recalls the events that landed him behind bars in his 2008 country song. He laments trading a steady job, a home, and a loving marriage for a prison cell:

I tell you ... the high cost of livin'
Ain't nothing like the cost of livin' high.

Prison Slang: How Many Terms Do You Know?

TermMeaningTermMeaning

all day

a life sentence

ding wing

the prison psychiatric unit

all day and night

a life sentence with no parole

jackrabbit parole

to escape from prison

brake fluid

psychiatric medications

kite

a contraband letter

cell warrior

an inmate who acts tough when locked in his/her cell but behaves cowardly when when out in the open among other prisoners

monkey mouth

a prisoner who talks on and on about nothing

chin check

to punch another inmate in the jaw to see whether s/he will fight back

Ninja Turtles

prison guards dressed in full riot gear

dance on the blacktop

to get stabbed

stainless steel ride

death by lethal injection

16. "Prisoner Of Your Eyes" by Judas Priest

The man in this 1982 rock song is heartbroken and wants to revive the love he and his old flame had. She has the poor guy mesmerized and he feels trapped by her memory, unable to move on. Dude, break free. She's already over you.

17. "Jailbreak" by Thin Lizzy

In this classic 1976 hard rock song, advance warning is provided that something dangerous is going down tonight and you better not be around to witness it. Don't try to stop them. Don't get in their way. There's gonna be a jailbreak tonight.

18. "Chains" by Patty Loveless

If you've ever loved a partner a lot more than they've loved you, then you can identify with this 1989 country song. Caught in a one-sided love affair, the protagonist finds that she's unable to leave her lover because she loves him too much. However, she also realizes that he doesn't return the intensity of her feelings:

Chains, chains, shackles and chains
No matter what it takes some day I'm gonna break these
Chains, chains, shackles and chains
These love taking, heart breaking, cold, hard, lonely making chains.

19. "Famous In A Small Town" by Miranda Lambert

Small towns are friendly but become their own kinds of prisons. This 2007 country song describes life in small town America where everyone is somebody. When you live in a small town, you can't be late for church or get thrown in jail without everybody knowing it.


20. "Band on the Run" by Paul McCartney & Wings

This 1974 classic rock song from ex-Beatle McCartney and friends depicts the narrator's escape from the four walls of a jail cell and the ensuing search party.

In 1980, McCartney did actually spend nine days in a Tokyo jail and faced a possible seven-year prison sentence. Needless to say, there was no escape. Instead, he was merely deported after serving his brief sentence.

"We need prisons because there are some hardcore criminals, but I never met a guy who has been in jail that came out with a smile on his face thinking, 'Right, that's it - now I am going to be good!'" - Tahar Rahim, French actor

"We need prisons because there are some hardcore criminals, but I never met a guy who has been in jail that came out with a smile on his face thinking, 'Right, that's it - now I am going to be good!'" - Tahar Rahim, French actor

Even More Songs About Serving Time or Going to Jail or Prison

Know a song about jail or prison that should be on this playlist? Make a recommendation in the Comments Section below.

SongArtistYear Released

21. Women's Prison

Loretta Lynn

2004

22. Folsom Prison Blues

Johnny Cash

1955

23. Jailbreak

AC/DC

1976

24. Love in the First Degree

Alabama

1981

25. Stay Away

Charli XCX

2013

26. Prison Time

Colin Hay

2009

27. Son Of A Prison Guard

Train

2014

28. Jail Guitar Doors

The Clash

1978

29. Out Of Jail

They Might Be Giants

1994

30. Locked up in Jail (Prison Blues)

John Lee Hooker

1953

31. Prisoner

NeedtoBreathe

2009

32. Good Ol' Boys (Theme from Dukes of Hazzard)

Waylon Jennings

1980

33. Prisoner of Love

James Brown

1963

33. Midnight Special

Creedence Clearwater Revival

1969

34. You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison

My Chemical Romance

2004

35. I Don't Look Good in Stripes

Brandy Clark

2013

36. Indiana Wants Me

R. Dean Taylor

1970

37. Should've Know Better

Richard Marx

1987

38. Bad Boys

Inner Circle

1993

39. Rolled Up

Long Beach Dub Allstars

2001

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), at least half of American prisoners have mental health concerns, with up to 25% suffering serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia or major affective disorders.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), at least half of American prisoners have mental health concerns, with up to 25% suffering serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia or major affective disorders.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 FlourishAnyway

Comments

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on April 16, 2020:

Peggy - Sometimes I am too! I'm also surprised at times by who sings about certain subjects. Thanks for stopping by.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 15, 2020:

"Jailhouse Rock" was the first one that popped into my mind, but I also knew a few of these others you put on this list. I am continually amazed that there are so many songs about a single subject.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on September 28, 2018:

Tim - Thanks for your comment.

Tim on September 27, 2018:

I know she moved on I wanted to see my son and threats were made between us I never was a part of any prison group never said I was why would I go to jail I've done nothing looks like another set up job to me it's bullshit Iam being used at the expense of other people lying I've done nothen

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on August 26, 2018:

Paul - I've started to look up some of what you reference above and am learning a lot. The conditions in those prisons sound awful.

Jake Clawson from Kazakhstan on August 26, 2018:

Since times of the Czar era in Russia, there was always a genre of Chanson music (literally called Prison Chanson or Blatnyak) which still goes strong today. Gaining more steam during Soviet times.

Their music is about going to prison, living in the system, missing your loved ones, regret and sorrow over past deeds.

examples are Butyrka, Michail Krug and Leonid Utesov

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on August 04, 2018:

Christy - Thank you for that addition!

Christy on August 04, 2018:

"Rolled Up" by Long Beach Dub Allstars

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 16, 2018:

shanmarie - That explains it! I was wondering about gremlins.

Shannon Henry from Texas on February 16, 2018:

Iys an old comment here. Sorry. This hub was up in the news feed earlier.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 16, 2018:

Shan - I'm going to go check my spam folder because that comment isn't showing! Thanks for the heads up. Have a great weekend.

Shannon Henry from Texas on February 16, 2018:

Just realized that the song I suggested here would also fall under your funny country songs list. :)

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 16, 2018:

Peg - Now that's something to write about! I'd love to hear some of those tales. Have a wonderful weekend.

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on February 16, 2018:

I had no idea there were so many songs about prison and jail. What an interesting glimpse into celebrities that spent time in the slammer. Years ago, I dated an ex felon who served time for armed robbery. Another story about a different time, I suppose. He had some stories!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on September 28, 2017:

Catherine - Some of those names are a bit surprising, too! Thanks for stopping by!

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on September 28, 2017:

Jailhouse Rock! Elvis Presley made jail cool. Ooops! I guess I am showing my age. Your list of music artists who have been to prison (real crimes, not just protesting) shows why there are so many songs about prison.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on September 10, 2017:

Devika - Thanks for stopping by.

DDE on September 09, 2017:

You think of such interesting topics and so worth the read.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 27, 2017:

Debangee - Thank you for the nice compliment. I appreciate your stopping by! Have a wonderful weekend ahead!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 27, 2017:

Rasma - Thanks for that song suggestion which I added. I had never heard of it but took a listen on YouTube. Have a wonderful week ahead.

DEBANGEE MANDAL from India on July 27, 2017:

Really an innovative thinking. Sometimes the neglected things do occupy a big space.

And I have always liked your collection of songs. Beautiful article! Keep it up!

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on July 27, 2017:

Another interesting theme and a great and informative hub. One of my favorites has always been the song Indiana Wants Me.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 26, 2017:

Linda - Thanks so much for your perspective and your encouragement.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 26, 2017:

Cynthia - Thank you for your kind kudos. There are so many songs about jail or prison, but this one was challenging because I didn't want to include certain ones that seemed to glorify violent acts. That narrowed me down quite a bit. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your memories with us.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 26, 2017:

Kyriaki - Glad you enjoyed this and found that song that you like so well. I had it initially in the first slot, but since it was love-themed I slipped it down in the list a bit. Have a wonderful week!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 26, 2017:

I agree very much that prison can be a state of mind as well as a place. It's a sad state to be in. On a happier note, congratulations on your million views, Flourish! You deserve them all.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 26, 2017:

Bill - Many thanks! It passed quietly last summer and has climbed from there. I appreciate your following and stopping by.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 26, 2017:

Larry - Thanks a lot for stopping by.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 26, 2017:

A lot of good songs here. Great read:-)

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 26, 2017:

Venkatachari M - My husband suggested this topic to me after a man we knew (whom we believed was a very upstanding citizen) went to prison for the rest of his natural life recently. He plead guilty for some terrible crimes against minors who were in the care of his wife at their in-home daycare. We knew the man and his wife and they both volunteered extensively in the public school system. He was a teacher. For the sake of all children he might come into contact with, prison is the right place for him, given what he has confessed to doing. It's time he faced the music.

Kyriaki Chatzi on July 26, 2017:

When I laid eyes on that title, I instantly thought of "Chains" by Nick Jonas. You can imagine my excitement when I saw it's part of this fantastic list! Thank you for another amazing article, Flourish!

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on July 26, 2017:

This was a very interesting and thought-provoking piece. I hadn't realized how pervasive in our culture were songs abour imprisonment. I remember singing "Birmingham Jail" as a 50's child with no possible true understanding of the song's context, but taken by the sentimental lyrics around loneliness, probably. And I loved Tom Jones's version of "The Green Grass of Home" when I was a teen in the 1960's.

I continue to marvel at the way you take this creative formula for exploring common popular music themes and make the lists both highly entertaining and sociologically informative with your research and pithy narration.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on July 26, 2017:

Another great list Flourish. And a big congratulations on getting to 1 million views. A great accomplishment and well deserved.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on July 26, 2017:

This list is new to me. Songs about Going to Jails! I enjoyed some of them previously also but didn't categorize like this.

Thanks for the entertainment and the message there to people.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 25, 2017:

MsDora - She was apparently very, very unorganized and just procrastinated way too long on paying income taxes on $1.8 million from 2005-07. Some people figure they won't get caught, but Uncle Sam is serious about wanting his money. It's strange how you can go to prison longer for tax evasion than manslaughter in some cases. Gee whiz.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 25, 2017:

Surprised to hear about that sweet girl, Lauryn Hill. Oh, well! I like the quote by Tahar Rahim. Wish there were an appropriate alternative.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 25, 2017:

Shanmarie - Thanks for the recommendation! I added it at #35.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 25, 2017:

Hi, Linda - Thanks for commenting. It's on there as #7. Have a great week ahead!

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on July 25, 2017:

Sam Cooke "Chain Gang"?

Shannon Henry from Texas on July 25, 2017:

Nice list. Do you consider "I Don't Look Good in Stripes" by Brandy Clark a song about going to jail since it's more a song about her reasons for not committing the crime?

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 25, 2017:

Bill - Glad you thought of something. Have a great week.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 25, 2017:

Jailhouse Rock and Fulsom Prison were automatic. This time I had something instantly, which leaves me feeling oddly satisfied. :)