Prison Song


  • 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
  • System Of A Down made a statement about the lunacy of the "war on drugs" in their song "Peephole," from their previous album. As counterculture pot-smokers, they were prime targets, and could easily have found themselves among the low-level drug offenders sent to prison.
  • Lead singer Serj Tankian and guitarist Daron Malakian wrote this song. It was produced by Rick Rubin, who was also their label boss.
  • As the bloated prison population continued to strain America's financial system and shred its social fabric, it became clear that SOAD had a good point here. In the years after this song was released, the problem got even worse. It wasn't until about 2008 that efforts to reform drug laws and decriminalize marijuana started to reverse the trend.
  • This is the opening track on Toxicity, the second System Of A Down album. The song was in the works for at least a year before the album was released on September 4, 2001, just a week before 9/11. It debuted at #1 in America and went on to sell over 3 million copies, but for a time, the issues addressed in this song were overshadowed by the terrorist attacks.
  • One of the factoids in the lyric points out:

    All research and successful drug policies show that treatment should be increased
    And law enforcement decreased while abolishing mandatory minimum sentences

    Serj Tankian told Sonicnet: "Once someone goes to prison, they're already brainwashed in a different type of a world. I know people need punishment who have done crimes, and I agree with that. There are a lot of people who definitely do belong in prison, but there are a lot who necessarily don't. The whole prison system has turned into an infrastructure of terror, and it sucks away tax dollars as well."
  • Along with "Psycho," System played this song live for the first time at the Smoke Out festival on October 7, 2000.

Comments: 35

  • Sup Dogg from Portland, Bangladesh"I buy my crack, my smack, my bitch right here in Hollyyywoooood" this is what the lyrics actually say, Cheri. Hes referring to crack-cocaine and heroin.
  • Suite-pee from Columbus, OhI want our prisons overcrowded with minor drug offenders so there is absolutely no space or money to hold the lesser criminals such as,i don't know, maybe the sick pieces of sh*t committing sexual and other f*kd up crimes against our children!Now on a less sarcastic note,"The war on drugs!"what a f*kn joke!What other war would we lose for 40+ f*kn years and yet keep f*kn shoveling money by the truck load on a daily basis?None! Legalize all drugs and guaran-f*kn-teed in 10 years we could cure hunger, homelessness,health care and what ever else it takes money to solve. Now I am not saying legalize with reckless abandonment. It needs to be done with intelligence,and with our government, there in lies the problem. Die!Like a mother f*cker!
  • Lawrence from Nokesville, VaThis song references the Government's secret involvement in trafficking cocaine into the U.S to fund the Contra movement in Venezuela. "Utilizing drugs to pay for secret wars around the world."
  • Jesse from Sioux City, IaI just wanna say marijuana does not F up ur driving like alchohol, I read in my health book about the effects it did not say anything about marijuana messing up your cordination like it did with alcohol. Also why do you care if its bad for you or not, phones cause cancer chocolate prevents it, a can of soda a day increases your chances of getting diabetes by somewhere around 30%. All im tryin to say is theres so much things unhealthy for you but other things that will help you,so smoke if you want to but dont tell someone you dont know that its bad or to stop unless you do know them well and there starting to actually sound like a mentally challenged person. And if you do think weed will kill you Smoke it so you dont have to have old wrinkley sex. or to where your so lonely cause your not gettin some or your wife died and now your after litlle kids.

    P.S. We should realy talk about the song instead of health issues, or I would've gone to some pot head blog spotto read this dumb Sh*t.
  • Dale from New Orleans, LaThis Jim guy... Again he's provided the community with a vague description of the song, which anyone with a 3rd graders reading skills could interpret. I appreciate those of you who actually put some good points in your interpretations and back them up with a solid argument. Let's all find this Jim, fella, because he is slaughtering the wonderful lyrics of SoaD.
  • Tyler from Leoma, TnI'm not going to say anything about the effects of marijuana. But there is something about this song that can't be argued with: it points out just how greedy our government is.
    Alcohol and marijuana were once both illegal substances, not because they were harmful, but because they couldn't get money off of it, as in it couldn't be taxed. However, the ban on alcohol was soon lifted, and marijuana is still illegal, again, only because they can't get rich off of it.
    Now because of this, when they find someone in possession of an illegal substance, they get thrown in jail. Not that they'd be better off, but rather because it's frakin' cheaper than getting them the help they need!
    And really, putting up these rules isn't helping the control. It's like putting a stick in front of a rhino that wants to get to a pond to drink. "Alright, Mr. Rhino. Don't go past this stick, because you getting a drink won't help me at all." Does the poor sod really think that's going to stop this thirsty rhino? No. He's still gonna ram that horn up the guy's ass when he gets by. If people really want drugs, they're gonna get them, no matter what regulations or protocol are in place.
  • Zack from Kenosha, WiWow, I love the sheer ignorance that comes out when a drug debate starts up. First off System is a pro-cannabis band, they've even mentioned having bongs in the studio as they record in interviews. The ultra-conservatives who are spieling out all these lies about marijuana legalization are nothing short of ignorant. You are the product of the government propaganda SOAD sings about so frequently.

    Marijuana was classified as an illegal drug to protect American corporations. Simply put products that have to be manufactured by lengthy means give power to corporations which have greater lobbying power with our government. The 'case' leading to the prohibition on marijuana is filled with outrageous lies and racist remarks intended to sway the jury to a decision based on an emotional and not ethical argument. Don't believe me? Look it up.

    As far as health concerns go marijuana consumption was found in a recent medical study in Spain to kill several variations of terminal brain cancer cells in lab rats tested while leaving the rats brain cells in tact. It has also been found to prevent the buildup of plaque in the brain that causes Alzheimer's disease. Of course we also all should be aware of it's ability to prevent glaucoma, open up the bronchi in the lungs and assist in breathing for those who suffer asthma, numb pain, stimulate the appetite and treat depression.

    Marijuana is not physically addictive and although it is psychologically addictive will never cause someone not already prone to violence to commit violent acts.

    There are no deaths ever attributed to marijuana consumption, to die from the consumption of THC one would have to consume one third of their bodies weight in pure THC. WATER is deadlier then that as it can cause water intoxication far quicker.

    ...and social costs? Laughable. How one behaves and preforms academically and in the workplace is their personal choice. Marijuana consumption does not impair the users ability to function while sober. Often times we tend to associate marijuana with poor performance when often it might be the reason behind the persons use that causes the decline in productivity. There are MANY extraordinary individuals throughout history who were users of cannabis including most of America's presidents and founding fathers.
    Don't believe me? Check the link:

    Do your homework before you speak guys. Knowledge is power, don't run around showing the world just how weak you are.
  • James from Dover, NjOh and Rob, how many domestic disputes, fights, drug wars, dropouts are caused by marijuana? A LOT. Alcohol is legal due to thatif u drink a beer, take scotch, or have a glass of fine wine, it wont affect immediately. A blunt can F**k u up. Especially 4 teens, who drop out, get poor grades, and do stupid Sh*t. Thus it affects the nation in the future, if that were made legal. We need someone to help fix the problems occuring today right?
  • James from Dover, NjHow about just not doing it at all? They are all bad for you, regardless. No problems then right? Or are you just just goin to be stupid and try it or give in to temptation?
  • Spud from Nebraska, NeGod made cannibus, man made beer.. who do you trust?
  • Blake from Hamilton, OhThe petrified monkey is smarter then I thought......He is correct about everything he said!
  • Nicole from Killeen, TxJust a little FYI on the song lyrics. He's not saying, "I buy my crack, I smack my bitch." He's saying, "I buy my crack, my smack, my bitch."
    Bscially, this song is about a lot of things, one of them is the "war against the new non rich." One of the ways they do this is by pointing out the hypocracy that the rich (in Hollywood for example) can do more or less what they want, but the poor are put into prisons because it is convenient for our government.
  • Petrified Monkey from Citysville, AlOne of the biggest points of this song is manditiory minnimum sentences. In 1986 Congress enacted mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which force judges to deliver fixed sentences to individuals convicted of a crime, regardless of culpability or other mitigating factors. Now, lets say there are two people. Lets call person # 1 Jack, and lets call person # 2 Jill. Jack is a highscool student who decided to try weed for the first time and got busted. Jill, is an uneployed 37 year old woman who has been in and out of prisons her whole life for a viraity of violent crimes, who just killed 3 people for looking at her cock-eyed. Jill can get a lawyer to plead down her sentence to 4 or 5 years, mabye lower. But jack has to sit in jail for 2 to 3 years, and he cant get a lower sentence than that, all because the great dillweeds in washington think that he is at risk of selling a drug that they cant make any money off of.
  • The Girl Of Ashes from Portland, Ori looooove this song im doing a report on it for current events project....

  • Blake from Hamilton, OhYes I agree with EVERYONE that says marajuana should be legal. Here's the catch: This song doesn't point out DIR"ECTLY about drugs. This is more about how people who "DO" drugs get thrown in jail for rediculous reasons. How a murderer can get off easy, but a drug dealer has to sit in jail. Rediculous.
  • Cheri from Redding, Ca"I buy my crack, I smack my bitch right here in Hollywood" this is what the lyrics actually say, Matt. to me this means he is using drugs and beating his wife. what a typical combination of why people end up in prison.
  • Tony from Chicago, IlThere is no real reason why marijuana is illegal anymore... i'm a long time smoker/studier myself, Luke, that post of yours was extremely idiotic. The song talks about how our gov. is using illegal drug money to get what we please and line our pockets... then what do we build to pretend we're working on it and busting dealers? prisons!
  • Jason from Boise, IdMarijuana is illegal because the most extreme and desperate users will commit violent crimes to obtain it. Now if anyone wants to talk about the song, as a song.. the vocals are bizarre but this band never needed to sound brushed-up to be enjoyed. Musically, they're very much in tune with the tastes of the present generation.
  • Steve from Toronto, Ont., CanadaGood song! But to address some of the comments here: People don't just decide to poke heroin out of the blue...nor do they decide that snorting a few lines would be a nice change to a drab weekend; pot is a gateway drug...not for everybody...but for quite a few. Alcohol does cause problems, and there are definite health risks, but that's due to an escalation in consumption over time...and you need to drink a lot to kill your liver. As for addiction to pot; you can become mentally addicted...much the same way a (cigarette) smoker, who's gotten over the physical addiction, strugles against the habitual urge when they have their morning coffee. And driving, man, without a doubt weed messes up your capability to drive, plus there's no road-side test that can be administered to see if someone was driving while stoned. Lastly, for Karol's point: Canadians DO have the choice to use or abstain from using drugs; but if you choose to do them, and you get caught...there's a penalty to pay!
  • Petrified Monkey from South Park, CoRecentaly the goverment has been trying to convince young people that if you smoke pot your aiding terrorism witch is complete bull(insert obseity)!! They say this because there have been reported cases of terrioists useing drug money to pay for explosives and weapons. However more than 75% of suspected terroist drug sales are of Crack or Meth. Marijuanna only accounts for 15%. wtf?
  • Matt from Uniontown , Payeah, if you smoke tons and tons of weed, you're eventually going to burn out. however, if you just do it every once in a while, its probably not going to bother you at all.
  • Erik from Willow Hill, Pahey marijuana causes alot of mental problems. it may not affect you now, but it does later in life. it causes depression and really takes a toll on your mind.
  • Rob from Lakewood, CoWow Luke, you're definitely doing a poor job representing the CO. I think you ought to do a little bit of research yourself about why marijuana was made illegal in the first place. How many people have died as a result of THC poisoning in the history of mankind? ZERO. How many domestic disputes, driving accidents, and fights are caused by alcohol vs. marijuana? Give me a break. If you think marijuana should be illegal you are unquestionably a GRADE A MORON. Do some research (use international sites, not government funded propaganda). By the way, Prison Song kicks ass!
  • Luke from Aurora, CoAlright, let me lay soem recent research on you guys. Marijuana is quite harmful, as it damage nerves in the brain that if those nerves are severed or damaged, can lead to several mental disorders, including schizophrenia. the reason why Alcohol is legal, is cause we already banned it, prohibition, the roaring 20's, really worked didnt it? and all drugs impair your judgement, so why are they illigal if alcohol is legal? because, alcohol doesnt do as much damage to your system(ever wonder why hippies are so screwed in the head, let me give you a hint, it wasn't because of alchohol, not harmful eh?)
  • Ryan from Sheridan, WyA lot of you talk about marajuana, but the drug that helps fill the prisons is far less natural. I have known a few people personally who have gone to prison for Meth related charges. My brother spent 6 years in federal because two other people dropped his name to lessen their sentence. The court system doesnt even need to have any proof to incarcerate, just the testimony of two addicts out to save their own skin is all it takes. That's an example of how our prison population is becoming overcrowded. Weed should be legal? (deleted) right!! But meth is dangerous. However, people should be treated for its use and not incarcerated. Do you think my brother was offered any kind of rehab in the joint? Government dollars go to more inportant things like building another prison for you and me to live in. Damn the man!
  • Matt from Uniontown , Paevery set of lyric i've ever seen seems to be different from what it sung. to me, it sounds like he's saying "i buy my crack, my smack, my bitch, right here in hollywood"; that is, he buys crack, smack, and a bitch. anyone agree with this?
  • Fu from Beh Jin Nua Yohn, China"Because marijuana intoxicates you. That's basically the whole point of smoking marijuana. Smoking cigarettes doesn't get you high - only light-headed the first time few times you smoke. Idiot.
    - Leon, Waterbury, CT"

    Marijuana doesn't intoxicate you, that is plain wrong. it contains this ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). funnily enough, our brains, as all other mammals, have THC receptors that are stimulated by smoking marijuana.

    bit more natural than alcohol, which actually does intoxiate you (technically you're poisoning yourself in very low doses so your body can process it (at cost to your liver).

    and as for saying its the whole point of smoking it, yeah, smoking it to get high i think is the main reason, people just enjoy it. after all it has been used for thousands of years by different civilizations for different medicinal and religious uses. its not addictive, only to those with addictive personalities, much like kids who are addicted to their nintendo game boys, er, people (woman,like you Leon) who buy a $hit load of shoes. im saying people can stop in a high majority of cases whenever they want.

    and then you have the cheek to just brush off cigarettes as if they are nothing compared, when actually become seriously addicted on them, smoking multiple packets a day!

    maybe next time take a look at before you post.

    not to mention medical properties of marijuana,or how the fibres from the plant can be used to make paper, high qulity paper at that, which would greatly help rain forests around the world.
  • Jacob from Cbd, PaI know this is a little off topic, but I can't agree with the statement that SOAD argues for the "building of more prisons." Stated in the song description at the top of the page. If anything SOAD is fighting the prison establishment and saying that drug offenders should be set free. Near the middle of Prison Song the lyrics
    "All research and successful drug policy show
    That treatment should be increased,
    And law enforcement decreased,
    While abolishing mandatory minimum sentences."
    make their position painfully clear. They believe that drug offenders should be sent to rehab instead of stuffing them into over crowded prisons. They don't suggest that America build more prisons, but that they send drug addicts to rehab instead of prisons where they will not get any help.
  • Josh from Brimley, MiLeon, there was a study done on driving some time ago. There were two control groups. One group smoked weed, the other: tobacco. Before smoking everyone in the study went through a driving simulator. After the test, stay with me now, the people who smoked weed did a considerable amount better than they did before smoking. Here's the kicker, the people who smoked tobacco did a little more than half as well as their first test. As far as the song goes, yeah, prisons are overcrowded because it costs our government less to throw people in the can than to actually give them proper treatment. Our government doesn't give a f*** about us as long as the money is still coming in.
  • Erik from Willow Hill, Papersonally i think this is system of a down's best song. it has a great beat and a great opening riff. it also has a great message and they are 100% right. prisons are getting overcrowded with people who should be in rehabs getting help.
  • The Prynce from Dillon / Hamer, ScI think most drugs should be legal but heavily taxed. Alcohol damages the body more than marijuana and I've never heard of some innocent person being killed in a car accident because a bloke was high on marijuana. It seems that people high on marijuana know they're high and are more aware of what they can and cannot do than are people intoxicated with liqours.

    -=The Prynce
  • Karol from Toronto, CanadaWhy should any drug be illegal? Why is the government telling us what we can and can't consume? People are not being given the freedom to choose to use or abstain from drugs. It's not as if the government has stopped anyone from using them so far. If someone wants to do drugs, they'll do it anyways.
  • Elyssa from Goliad, TxYea yea, its true in a way what both of you are saying, but really, any drug isnt good for you, yea sure, tylenol take away headaches, but too many can hurt you later in life,they can damage ur liver and cause ulcers. So i agree that why should marijuana be illegal when any drug is harmful.
  • Leon from Waterbury, CtBecause marijuana intoxicates you. That's basically the whole point of smoking marijuana. Smoking cigarettes doesn't get you high - only light-headed the first time few times you smoke. Idiot.
  • Mark from Levan, UtIf you listen to the all the lyrics of this song is will help you realize just how screwed up this government is. For instance, why is marijuana illegal? Its harmful side effects are no worse than tobacco's, and in non-smoked forms it has been shown to actually be beneficial to ones health. Marijuana can grow anywhere easily by anyone, so if it was legal no one would buy it from stores and the government wouldn't be able to tax it. Its only illegal because the government can make more money from busts and fines than they could from taxing it.
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