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Album: Johnny Too BadReleased: 1996
Songwriter Steve Earle is well known as a vocal opponent of capital punishment; this is perhaps his best known song on this theme, and certainly his most poignant. Written from the viewpoint of a prison guard who is obviously not happy with this side of his employment, "Ellis Unit One" is performed magnificently by Earle with just his acoustic guitar.
Ellis Unit (E1) is located near Huntsville, Texas; it was established in 1965. According to official Texas Department of Criminal Justice on-line documentation, Death Row was transferred to Ellis Unit the same year, and then to Polunsky Unit in 1999. A total of 361 inmates were sent to the electric chair in Texas, but in 1977, lethal injection was adopted as the means of execution, something which is mentioned by Earle in the song.
Earle contributed this song to the soundtrack of the film Dead Man Walking, which is about a prisoner on death row. Tim Robbins, who directed the movie, sent a rough cut of the film to Earle, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and several other artists asking for songs that fit the theme of the movie.