Results: Prison

Lisa Xu

Silver Jews – Candy Jail

Avoiding rap music, for better or worse, has led me to accumulate a lifetime’s deficit of knowledge about prison, although this oversight is being partially remedied by the second season of The Wire. The Silver Jews’ “Candy Jail”, from their new album Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, however, is unlikely to help in that regard. Dave Berman, for example, sings of such amenities as “peppermint bars”, “peanut brittle bunk beds”, and “marshmallow walls”, as well as a warden who “keeps the data on your favorite brands.” With The Wire serving as a trusty point of reference to what it’s really like to be on the inside, “Candy Jail” might be interpreted instead as an homage to “Big Rock Candy Mountain” and other traditional land o’plenty fantasies.

Whimsy in a Berman lyric, however, tends to be more thought-provoking than your usual brand of whimsy. In Big Rock Candy Mountain, as everyone knows, the jails are made of tin (so that you can walk right out of them as soon, in fact, as you’re in)—a hobo’s dream. It gets even better in Candy Jail, where one’s surroundings could presumably be licked away. It would be the most delectable escape plan ever concocted, just like, actually, how it would be the most delectable jail sentence. But in that case, why would you ever want to escape? I think Berman sets it up, in the most poetical of possible terms, as a cost-benefit analysis. He notes, “Pain works on a sliding scale/So does pleasure in a candy jail.” So on the one hand, you’re in a jail made out of candy (with “made out of candy” being the operative modifier). On the other hand, however, “true love doesn’t come around any more than fate allows on a Monday in Fort Lauderdale.” Those odds aren’t good, but at least they’re probably better than they are in Baltimore.

Chandra Linnell

Merle Haggard – Mama Tried

I have never been to prison. I have heard a story or two involving baby oil, chocolate pudding and blanket parties from a very special former resident of the Iowa State Penitentiary, but that and attending a public high school are about as close as I’ve ever gotten to “the joint.”

If I ever went to prison, in between trying to make wine out of packets of grape jelly, I think that I would be singing the song “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard on repeat for the first year or so. It’s a short song, the words are easy to memorize, and it tells a beautifully simple story of a young man who finds himself in prison (ironically) because of his lifelong desire to be free. Haggard also alludes to the possibility that a life without a father may have contributed to his becoming an outlaw at such a tender age. However, the central theme of the song is the narrator’s assertion that despite how many chances he had, and all the Sunday learnin’ he was given, he still came to be 21 in prison doin’ life without parole.
Mama did, indeed try. There were lots of versions of this song on youtube. I chose the one that had the most dirt bikes and chainsaws.

On the subject of prison, I can’t pass up the chance to tip my hat to another related subject – the chain gang. The best kind of chain gang song for me is the one that makes me hear the rhythm while I’m out busting rocks and serving my time (and by “busting rocks” I mean e-mailing and doing admin, and “serving my time” refers of course to Americorps). The only song that really does this for me is Nina Simone’s “Work Song.” Of course, there’s a lot more style here, and i’ve never seen a chang gang with a kickass horn section, though I have seen one help get a playground built…go chain gangs! This one is a great version of Simone’s classic, the video is a tribute to boxer Sonny Liston.

Adam Gutterman

Out of Time!

All felons are restricted from voting.

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