It seems like singers and songwriters often find themselves captivated by the complicated and miserable subjects, and many of them found the entire concept of prisons to be really encouraging. In fact, country songs about going to jail or prison have a rich history in the genre – whether the singer speaks as someone who is in jail, going to jail, or breaking out of them.
So here below, we will go over some of the most exciting and famous songs about prisons.
1. “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash
This heart-melting song was a massive hit for Johnny Cash, becoming one of his signature songs and helping him win a Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male.
The country legend was inspired to write “Folsom Prison Blues” after watching the 1951 movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison while serving in West Germany in the United States Air Force.
2. “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard
This classic song “Mama Tried” from Merle Haggard plainly and briefly delivers the feelings of a guilt-ridden narrator – a “one and only rebel child” – who ignored his mother’s appeals to straighten up and do the right thing. He ended up in prison, serving “life without parole.
3. “Women’s Prison” by Loretta Lynn
Throughout her career, Loretta Lynn has penned and sang songs about marital abuse, adultery, much to the horror of conservative country radio – and “Women’s Prison” is another excellent addition to her repertoire.
4. “Still Doing Time” by George Jones
The heartbreaking ballad tells the story of a man who was caught cheating and is now all on his own since the love of his life left him. A year later, the man remarked that he’s “still doin’ time” for his mistakes by drinking his grief away and “living in h— with a bar for a cell.”
5. “Ol’ Red” by Blake Shelton
Blake Shelton’s classic cover of George Jones’ “Ol Red” became one of Shelton’s first No. 1 hits after kicking off his career in country music. The song is about a man in jail after committing a crime of passion upon the discovery of his lover’s affair.
6. “You Never Even Called Me by My Name” by David Allan Coe
In 1975, the outlaw country star made his first mark on the country charts with this sarcastic song “You Never Even Called Me by My Name” that describes itself in the lyrics as “the perfect country and western song.” Well, David Allan Coe made sure to add the necessary elements for it to do so. This includes mama, trains, trucks, getting drunk, and of course, prison.
7. “Sing Me Back Home” by Merle Haggard
“Sing Me Back Home” finds Haggard playing the role of an inmate who watches his fellow prisoner walk to the death chamber. He then asked to play a final song for the condemned prisoner.
8. “I Made the Prison Band” by Merle Haggard
Prison is definitely a common theme of Haggard’s songs, and this one is true to itself. The country legend actually played in a prison band while doing time at San Quentin.
9. “Nothin’ Better to Do” by LeAnn Rimes
The up-tempo ballad comes with a music video where Rimes is shown in a Women’s Correctional Facility, dancing and singing with fellow inmates.
10. “Starkville City Jail” by Johnny Cash
Among the seven arrests Johnny Cash amassed during his most turbulent years, none was quite like the time he was arrested in Starkville, Mississippi, and he narrated the mishap in this song.
11. “(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle” by Hank Williams
The song contains two of country music’s central themes: trains and prison. As expected, it became a big hit for Hank Williams.
12. “A Week in a Country Jail” by Tom T. Hall
After he was caught speeding, the man in the song finds himself confined to jail until a judge comes around. For the moment, he needs to adjust his preferences – making “hot bologna, eggs, and gravy” appetizing and the jailer’s homely wife attractive.
13. “Blackjack County Chain” by Willie Nelson
The controversial song tells the story of a brutal sheriff who picks up vagrants and enslaves them – but when they caught the sheriff sleeping, they fought back and beat him dead.
14. “Life in Prison” by Merle Haggard
While most of Haggard’s jail songs are autobiographical, this one’s an exemption. It tells the tale of a man who killed his wife while “insane with rage” and was punished by leaving him to live with his guilt.
15. “Cocaine Blues” by Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash legendarily performed the country ballad during his 1968 Folsom Prison concert. It’s about a man who murders his unfaithful girlfriend while under the influence of whiskey and cocaine.
More Country Songs About Going To Jail or Prison That Prove It’s A Common Subject
We’ve dug a little deeper and discovered a vast and varied collection of music directly inspired by the prison experience. Check them out below.
- “Chains” by Patty Loveless
- “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail” by Johnny Cash
- “Huntsville” by Merle Haggard
- “There Ain’t No Good Chain Gang” by Johnny Cash
- “Outlaw Blues” by Bob Dylan
- “If I Could Only Fly” by Merle Haggard
- “Christmas In Prison” by John Prine
- “Good Ol’ Boys (Theme from Dukes of Hazzard)” by Waylon Jennings
- “11 Months and 29 Days” by Johnny Paycheck
- “I Found Jesus on the Jailhouse Floor” by George Strait
Indeed, country songs about going to jail or prison are often depressing, with stories of so much difficulty and misery. But isn’t that what most of the best country songs are about?
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