System Of A Down has some obtuse lyrics (like "My tapeworm tells me where to go" in "Needles
"), but they are crystal on this one. "Prison Song" is a condemnation of the American prison system, complete with statistics and factoids to back up their claims.
In the '80s, the US prison population expanded at a startling rate because of a crackdown on drug offenders and mandatory minimum sentences. About 500,000 Americans were in prison in 1980; by 2000 that number was roughly 2 million, with nearly half incarcerated on drug charges (per the US Bureau of Justice
). The incarceration rate at this time nearly tripled, giving the US the distinction of having both the most prisoners in the world and the highest incarceration rate.
Here, SOAD takes a look at why this is so, pointing the finger at the usual suspects: a corrupt government and greedy corporations. They have plenty of evidence to back up their accusations. If you follow the money, you can see there are many getting rich off the prison system (operators of private prisons, and also contractors who run prison services like food and phone calls), and money buys influence. Politicians could get elected on "law and order" platforms while reaping campaign contributions. In a very blatant lyric that would make Neil Young proud, Serj Tankian lays it out:Drug money is used to rig elections
And train brutal corporate-sponsored dictators around the world
It's scary stuff, especially when followed to its logical conclusion:They're trying to build a prison
For you and me to live in