Criminal Justice in Poetry:

Prof. Peggy DeStefano is looking for examples of criminal justice themes in poetry and music. If you have some suggestions, please post them in the comments.

I had very few suggestions myself. My two favorite law-related poems are W.H. Auden's "Law Like Love" -- which is more connected to theories of jurisprudence than to criminal law -- and Kipling's "Law of the Jungle" (which I suppose sets forth obligations of the sort that we'd enforce through criminal law, though primitive justice systems generally tended not to distinguish criminal law from civil law much). I also like Auden's "The Hidden Law," but that too isn't criminal law.

David Byrne's "The Dream Police" is probably too surreal to really have a serious criminal justice theme, though it's an amusing counterpoint, I think, to certain crim law cases. And of course there's "I Shot the Sheriff," but that's cliche. In any case, I'd love to see what our readers can come up with.

P J Evans (mail):
There's a song from the 30's called 'I Put A Slug In The Slot Machine'. A social worker is visiting a jail and the young convict tells his story. (A slot machine, in this context, is a vending machine, not a gambling machine.) The songbook it's in is called 'Soft Boiled Ballads, A Collection of Heart-Wrecking Rhymes'.
12.14.2005 2:37pm
Gabriel Rossman (www):
from Johnny Cash alone there's dozens of songs including:
Long Black Veil, Cocaine Blues, Folsom Prison Blues, I Got Stripes, Starkville City Jail, and a pretty good cover of Mercy Seat
12.14.2005 2:37pm
"The Highwayman," by Alfred Noyes.
12.14.2005 2:42pm
The NJ Annuitant (mail):
I forget the artist, but there was " I fought the law and the law won"
12.14.2005 2:42pm
cnwojnar (mail):
I Fought the Law and the Law Won by Bobby Fuller and I Fought the Law (and I Won) by the Dead Kennedys?

too obvious and simplistic?
12.14.2005 2:42pm
Thomas Foreman:
There is a fantastic wealth of criminal justice commentary within Johnny Cash's catalogue. The immortal "Fulsom Prison Blues" is one obvious example, as well "I Got Stripes" and certain verse of "Man In Black" Granted, most of Cash's justice-related music comments specifically on the prison system, he also generally offers some critique of the legal system that creates our prison population.
Also within the prison theme is the Social Distortion song "Prison Bound" which opens with the line "I'm going to a place where the bad boys go..."
Other notables would be Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" and Warren Zevon's sublimely funny warning against guilt by assocation, "Lawyers, Guns and Money"
12.14.2005 2:43pm
Hattio (mail):
Ten Long Years by Steeleye Span, and one by Fairport Convention that I can't remember the name of. Manslaughter maybe? Do English bands count?
12.14.2005 2:46pm
RHD (mail):
For music, how about the scenes in Act III of Don Carlo, where the heretics are burned at the stake by order of the King and the Grand Inquisitor? That's "criminal justice" in several senses. Act V of Faust features Marguerite in prison awaiting exectution for having murdered her child, although the opera does not show the trial. Just two of the many instances of "criminal justice" having a major dramatic and musical role in opera that come immediately to mind.
12.14.2005 2:47pm
The NJ Annuitant (mail):
Also, Bob Dylan, "I will be Released" , "Hurricane", "Jack of Hearts", and "John Wesley Harding".
12.14.2005 2:47pm
Thomas Foreman:
Just to show my hair metal bonafides I'll also mention Warrant's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" about a couple murderous policemen. The video implies a sexual assualt as motive.
There is also Skid Row's "18 and Life" which, if memory serves is about a murder conviction and the prospect of living your entire adult life behind bars.
12.14.2005 2:48pm
A.F.S. (mail):
"I Fought the Law" was also covered by The Clash. What about Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" (plight of Ruben "Hurricane" Carter).
12.14.2005 2:48pm
The NJ Annuitant (mail):
Lizzy Borden took an axe and gave her father forty whacks, and when the job was neatly done, she gave her mother forty-one. I think that little masterpiece is of unkown origin.
12.14.2005 2:53pm
Hattio (mail):
How about Frankie and Johnny (some versions have her and the judge laughing about her crime right before she's exonerated). Down in the Willow Garden (also called Rose Conally). Jack Hall (again from England). Pretty Polly (in some versions the guy turns himself in after murdering). Come to think of it almost all the old bluegrass/Appalachian murder ballads have some sort of retribution for the criminal.
12.14.2005 2:53pm
Thales (mail) (www):
There's an entire law review article called "Outlaw Blues: Law in the Songs of Bob Dylan" or something very close to that. Of Dylan's songs, I would note the masterful "Percy's Song," a rarity on the Biograph collection, "Seven Curses," and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," all of which deal with cruel, unfair, or corrupt judges in the criminal system--a recurrent theme in many early American folk &blues songs that are Dylan's obvious models.
12.14.2005 2:53pm
Hattio (mail):
PS I have a feeling that's the first time the phrase "hair metal bonafides" has ever appeared in print.
12.14.2005 2:54pm
the clash had a fine cover of eddy grant's 'police on my back' on the execrable 'sandinista' album . . .
12.14.2005 2:56pm
Rico (mail):
Criminal justice themes in poetry and music?
What more appropriate than Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns and Money":

Well, I went home with the waitress
The way I always do
How was I to know
She was with the Russians, too

I was gambling in Havana
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money
Dad, get me out of this

I'm the innocent bystander
Somehow I got stuck
Between the rock and the hard place
And I'm down on my luck
And I'm down on my luck
And I'm down on my luck

Now I'm hiding in Honduras
I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan

Send lawyers, guns and money...
12.14.2005 2:57pm
Guest2 (mail):
Poetry: Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol"

Music: The first act of Lohengrin includes an exciting trial by combat.
12.14.2005 2:57pm
Thomas Foreman (mail):
"hair metal bonafides" It was so fun, I thought I'd go for the second time as well

Could it be said that the entirety of "Les Miserables" is a commentary on a heavy-handed justice system? Valjean's struggles to overcome his convict status lead to some of the best moments in the musical, and Javert's mental anguish over said convist saving his life leads him to suicide.

Just for fun: Dropick Murphy's "John Law" the only pro-police punk song in existence, as far as I know.
12.14.2005 2:59pm
Hattio (mail):
There is a Steeleye Span song where a soldier rapes a woman and then is given the choice between marrying her or hanging for the crime. I'm guessing it's a traditional tune too. Can't remember the name of it right now.
12.14.2005 3:05pm
JJV (mail):
Three so far unmentioned classics in this genre are:

1. "The Night Chicago Died" by Purple Lace ("he called his gang to war/with the forces of the law") and

2. "Tom Dooley", most famously by the Kingston Trio.

3. "The Lights Went out in Georgia" ("Don't trust your soul to no small time country lawyer.").

I would add,

3. "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" from the John Wayne/Jimmy Stuart movie of the same name and

4. "Big Iron (on his hip)"-about a Texas Ranger against an outlaw, better than High Noon's theme song on this subject.
12.14.2005 3:06pm
David Matthews (mail):
"Do English bands [or any foreign bands] count?"

Breyer would say "yes" and Scalia would say "never."

Personally, I might say yes to George Harrison's "Sue Me Sue You Blues," since it was written in response to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. (recall that he was sued for filching the tune to "My Sweet Lord" from Ronald Mack's "He's So Fine," recorded by the Chiffons.)

One of my favorite "police brutality" type law songs is Lonnie Mack's "Cincinnati Jail," which shows that the CPD had some image problems long before the more recent riots. And then there's the raft of civil law songs, most involving divorce ("She got the gold mine, I got the shaft") to be found in country music. Rap music (Gangsta Rap) should provide loads and loads of examples, although I personally have no knowledge of any. Blues songs are replete with examples bemoaning Jim Crow laws (Louisiana Red penned some of my favorites, there's a website with a few lyrics:
(oops, maybe I shouldn't draw attention to this site, lest they get sued)

but my favorite of his, "Ride On Red," about his finally getting fed up enough to leave the South isn't among those at this site).
12.14.2005 3:07pm
Jim Christiansen (mail):
In poetry, there's Browning's "The Ring and the Book," and Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol." In music, there's the 70s hit, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia." Kingston Trio fans will remember "Tom Dooley" and "Tijuana Jail." For a death penalty theme, "The Green, Green Grass of Home."
12.14.2005 3:08pm
I believe that lack of criminal justice qualifies as criminal-justice themed. From the Dead Milkmen's Bitchin' Camaro:

I ran over some old lady one night at the county fair;
And I didn't get arrested, because my dad's the mayor.
12.14.2005 3:09pm
Jim Christiansen (mail):
Oops, I see JJV beat me to two of mine while I was writing.
12.14.2005 3:09pm
legitprop (mail):
What about all the great hip-hop songs? "Fuck the Police" by NWA being a prime example.
12.14.2005 3:10pm
John Steele (mail):
Del McCoury Band's version of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" (a must listen for all music fans).

Springsteen's "Johnny 99"

Any of the Stagger Lee versions.
12.14.2005 3:16pm
Brian Frye (mail) (www):
I strongly recommend the Blue Sky Boys version of The Banks of the Ohio, a sweet sounding two-part harmony concerning a man who slits his sweetheart's throat and throws her in the river, because she refuses to marry him, then goes home to wait for the sheriff. It's on the 4th volume of the Anthology of American Folk Music, compiled by John Fahey.
12.14.2005 3:16pm
MattXIV (mail):
The Clash particularly have written several songs dealing with criminal law:
Julie's Been Working For the Drug Squad - impacts of sentencing and the use of informants
Jail Guitar Doors - impacts of sentencing
Guns on the Roof - systems of criminal law
Stay Free - impacts of sentencing

Others offhand: Fuck the Police - NWA (racial profiling), Lil' Ghetto Boy - Dr. Dre (impacts of sentencing), Lockdown - Fugazi (propriety of use of convict labor), Stiff Little Fingers - Law and Order (police conduct), Sublime - Date Rape (narrative of a date rape case from crime to sentencing)
12.14.2005 3:16pm
Hattio (mail):
How could I forget Steve Earle, both Justice in Ontario, and Billy Austin, and I'm sure a bunch of others since he's against the death penalty.
Tupelo County Jail by the Old 97's and Tillamook County Jail by Todd Snider are two incarceration related songs.

Oh, and to show my hair metal bonifides, Ride the Lightning by Metallica
12.14.2005 3:17pm
From Billy Joel's The Ballad of Billy Kid:

One cold day a posse captured Billy
And the judge said string him up for what he did
And the cowboys and their kin
Like the sea came pouring in to watch
The hangin' of Billy the Kid
12.14.2005 3:18pm
Does “I shot the sheriff” originally by Bob Marley and covered by Clapton count?
12.14.2005 3:19pm
JohnO (mail):
JJV, The Night Chicago Died was PAPER Lace, not Purple Lace. And "I Fought the Law" was originally by the Bobby Fuller Five.

What about "Breaking the Law" by Judas Priest.
12.14.2005 3:20pm
Jim Christiansen (mail):
Two more: Kipling's "Danny Deever"; Kenneth Patchen's "Joe Hill Listens to the Praying." There must be quite a few other poems and songs just on Joe Hill himself.
12.14.2005 3:20pm
Thomas Foreman (mail):
"Alice's Restaurant Massacree" by Arlo Guthrie spends about 9 of its 18 minutes and 25 seconds discussing the criminal justice system (with five part harmony!)

I can't really think of any justice-related song that tears up the heart more than "Long Black Veil"
12.14.2005 3:21pm
Don Hamrick (mail):
On April 1, 2005 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave a speech at the 99th Annual Meeting of The American Society of International Law on Value of a Comparative Perspective in Constitutional Adjudication. Her first words cited Deuteronomy 16:20 that is not from the King James Bible. April 1, 2005 is the same day the U.S. Supreme Court denied Hamrick, (pro se) v. President Bush, et al, No. 04-1150 (DC Circuit, No. 04-5316), a Second Amendment case employing the RICO Act against the U.S. Government for not hearing a Second Amendment case sine 1939’s United States v. Miller. In light of her political activism I wrote this poem in defiance of her goals to bastardize our Constitution with foreign court opinions in matters having no jurisdiction to foreign courts.

The Basis for the
Code of Judicial Conduct
“The Canons of Ethics”

The King James Bible
Deuteronomy 16:18-20,

18: Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes; and they shall judge the people with just judgment.

19: Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift; for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.

20: That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.


Helling From the Tower of Babel
©2005 Don Hamrick

Ruth Bader Ginsburg chanting from an uncommon Writ
“Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive!”
Where, o’ where may our justice be found? Infers the twit,
But in the security of foreign lands to contrive!

O’ what Bible does this Supreme Court Justice follow?
Her read is certainly not from the King James!
She will have us pursue justice as some elusive swallow
Always beyond our reach, to spite her claims.

We can ignore our Constitution, she implies,
Because it no longer controls our authority.
Comparative analysis, will protect us, she belies
Against all threats in the global fratority.

O’ contraire! We, the People say,
Our Constitution is altogether just!
We shall follow the Constitution for our sake!
We say what it means, as we must!”

King James’ Deuteronomy is my comparative analysis
The Supreme Court today is our Tower of Babel
As we are held in this awkward state of paralysis,
Because there is no sense to Ginsburg’s rabble.

Defiant lines are drawn! Is civil war sensed?
Our highest court split by globalists’ sophistry.
Judicial review in league to conspire against,
Popular constitutionalism finding its place in history.

Oh! Dear God, I pray to thou!
For answers in these troubled days.
Why hast thou judges forsaken thou?
With no force of arms we are as slaves.

12.14.2005 3:22pm
To reference back to a Sunday Song Lyric from a few months ago, Jay Z's 99 Problems
12.14.2005 3:24pm
Don Hamrick (mail):
American Merchant Seamen in Harm’s Way

By Don Hamrick
© 2004 Don Hamrick

Pirates by sea, terrorists by land.
Through hostile waters we sailors dare steam,
Defensive weapons denied our hand.
Not the law of land or sea it would seem.

Without rhyme or reason,
September 11, a day of slaughter.
Security now a perpetual season.
Arm ourselves now! Sailors oughta!

Pirates and terrorists armed to the teeth,
With every blade and firepower within reach,
Against sailors defenseless as sheep.
For to arm sailors liberals would screech,

Would cause the Bill of Rights
To become our steering light.
12.14.2005 3:29pm
Don Hamrick (mail):
A Nihilistic Form of Government, This United States!

By Don Hamrick
© 2004 Don Hamrick

Give us this day our daily servilism,
So that actual freedom may never taunt,
The spirit in us, into a future pugilism.
Lest the government forever haunt.
How long?

Henry Hyde confessed that fateful day,
The Constitution, no longer relevant.
’Tis our fault we are slaves today,
We refused to be freedom’s adjuvant.
How long?

Our Republican government, overthrown,
By the Department of Homeland Insecurity.
Terrorism, its propaganda, overblown,
Freedom guaranteed by enslavement to security.
How long?

A new mythos proclaimed from this nihilism,
Only deadens our sense of discernment.
From this ethos of paranoia comes this falabilism,
You can’t be trusted. But trust the government.
How long?

Deceiving us in a blanket of security,
That we are safe from a world of dangers.
Forever oppressed our sense of responsibility,
To protect ourselves from such harbingers.
How long?

In vain we plead our Second Amendment right
To contest government edicts from on high
The courts rule our arguments as so much tripe
They say it does not apply on the thigh
How long?

Three doors of government slammed shut
Leaving us to agitate for want of freedom
The rule of law now is anything but
As we live in this wretched thraldom
How long?

How long will we sit and cower
Resenting those who act above the law
Before we stand up for balance of power
To stop the advancing rape of law
How long?

Lost to us now our Bill of Rights
This Nihilistic government frights.
Will it be much longer?
12.14.2005 3:30pm
I recommend "Strange Fruit," originally a poem (by Lewis Allan, for a trade union magazine, according to Wikipedia) and later sung by Billie Holiday. It's at least tangentially related to criminal justice, or the lack thereof.
12.14.2005 3:32pm
Van Naughty:
How about the old Irish ballad, "The Fields of Athenry"? Here's the first verse and chorus:

By a lonely prison wall
I heard a sweet voice calling,
"Danny, they have taken you away.
For you stole Travelian's corn,
That your babes might see the morn,
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay."

Fair lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small freebirds fly.
Our love grew with the spring,
We had dreams and songs to sing
As we wandered through the fields of Athenry.
12.14.2005 3:32pm
Matt22191 (mail):
legitprop is right: I don't see how this discussion could possible exclude rap/hip-hop. I suspect not many readers of this blog are big fans, and neither am I. But here's one that I am passingly familiar with: Jay-Z's 99 Problems (verse two).

The year's '94 and my trunk is raw
In the rear view mirror is the mother fuckin' law
I got two choices y'all pull over the car or (hmmm)
Bounce on the devil put the pedal to the floor
Now i ain't tryin' to see no highway chase with Jake
Plus i got a few dollars i can fight the case
So i...pull over to the side of the road
I heard "Son do you know why i'm stoppin' you for?"
Cause i'm young and i'm black and my hats real low
Do i look like a mind reader sir, i don't know
Am i under arrest or should i guess some mo'?
"Well you was doin fifty-five in a fifty-fo' "
"Liscense and registration and step out of the car"
"Are you carryin' a weapon on you i know a lot of you are"
I ain't steppin out of shit all my papers legit
"Well, do you mind if i look round the car a little bit?"
Well my glove compartment is locked so is the trunk in the back
And i know my rights so you gon' need a warrant for that
"Aren't you sharp as a tack, you some type of lawyer or something'?"
"Or somebody important or somethin'?"
Tah i ain't pass the bar but i know a little bit
Enough that you won't illegally search my shit
"We'll see how smart you are when the Canines come"
I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one
Hit me

(I disclaim responsibility for spelling/grammatical/ transcription errors in the preceding.)
12.14.2005 3:33pm
David Matthews (mail):
Jim Croce: "Five Short Minutes Alone (Done Cost Me 20 Long Years in Jail)"

Poking through the "Blues Lyrics" site I linked above, there are a bunch of examples:

"Judge Boushay Blues" and "Judge Harsh Blues" by Furry Lewis

"District Attorney Blues" and "When Can I Change My Clothes" by Bukka White

probably a bunch more
12.14.2005 3:35pm
Bob Bobstein (mail):
99 Problems was originally done by Ice-T.

"Fuck the Police" by NWA, mentioned above, imagines the group presiding over the trial of a cop who stands accused of being a "white bread, chickenshit motherfucker," if memory serves.

"The Guns of Brixton" by the Clash takes a G. Gordon Liddy-esque view of law enforcement.

"Electric Guitar" by the Talking Heads contains various impressionistic references to a "crime against the state" and the jury.
12.14.2005 3:46pm
For humor value, "Rock and Roll Lawyer" by the Austin Lounge Lizards comes to mind.
12.14.2005 3:46pm
"She's 17..." by the Four Postmen (from their album Looking for Grandpa) is a masterpiece of succinctness. The lyrics, in full:

She's seventeen...
And I'm in jail.

(copyright 1997 by Stefan Marks; used here without permission)
12.14.2005 3:50pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
One that comes immediately to mind is the late Shel Silverstein's "They Held Me Down" (1978)

INTRO: "This next song is dedicated to all the cop-outs in the world.
My friends mostly.........including me."

It was Sat night at the slammer
The gavel was falling like a hammer
As they dragged in every freak
From off the road
One by one they entered the cell
And the stories that they had to tell
Were all different
But all seemed to end on the very same note:

"They held me down and they put it on my nose.
They even sprinkled a little bit on my clothes.
Yeah… I know what you're thinkin...
But I ain't one of those.
No… they held me down and put it in my nose."

This wino in the corner got up and shook himself out.
He said,
"Well they held me down and poured it down my throat
That's what they did.
They even planted the bottle in my coat.
Anybody want some?
Yeah… the reason why my pants so wet...
Is they pushed me off the boat.
After they held me down and poured it down my throat."

And this chick in the next cell…
She said,
"I heard you guys talking.
And let me tell you something…
He held me down and he put it you know where.
Ohhhh… I told him I was a virgin.
He didn't care.
Noooo… the pig!
Ahhhh… you see his wallet's in my purse.
What's it doing there?
He held me down and put it you know where."

And then this cat got up. Well… he half got up. He lifted his head and,
He said,
"Hey, man… they held me down and they shot it in my vein.
They even held a pistol to my brain...
Or I wouldn'ta done it.
Ohhh.. these scars on my arms are where I crashed through the window pane...
Tryin' to get awaaaaaaaaay.
When they held me down and shot it in my vein."

And then this cat... a rollie-eyed cat in a raincoat, and shoes. And the bottom of his pants were cut off at the knees.
He said,
"She held me down and put it in my face.
Oh, the disgrace.
And that's the fact on which I'm gonna base my case.
She was overweight and underage.
And we was at my place.
But she held me down and put it in my face."

They held me down and made me write this song..........
12.14.2005 3:53pm
Matt22191 (mail):
Damn! AJH was too quick for me.
12.14.2005 3:54pm
Woddy Guthrie's Deportee. There is a nice cover of this by Emmylou Harris on A Vision Shared: A Tribute To Woody Guthrie &Leadbelly.
12.14.2005 3:54pm
Brock Swartzle (mail):
You may want to check out Mellencamp's remake of Woody Guthrie's single "Johnny Hart"; the song is on the "Trouble No More" album.
12.14.2005 3:59pm
There's also the old English ballad "The Lily of the West"; the version I know comes from the Chieftains' album The Long Black Veil, with Mark Knopfler as guest vocalist.

It's the only song I know of where the criminal gets off on a technicality! ("A flaw was in my indictment found/ And that soon had me free")
12.14.2005 4:00pm
jallgor (mail):
Someone above mentioned Lizzie Borden. There is a song called "You Can't Chop Your Parents Up In Massachussetts" about Lizzie but I don't know the artist.
Of course there are many Irish folk songs that deal with criminal justice themes. "Kevin Barry" and "The Fields of Athenrye" come to mind. "Kevin Barry" is about a young boy hanged by the English for some unspecified crime. "The Fields of Athenrye" is about a wife saying goodbye to her husband who is about to be sent away on a prison ship after stealing corn (from a protestant of course) so his children wouldn't starve. Gotta love the Irish.
12.14.2005 4:04pm
Matt22191 (mail):
Since the hip-hop thing didn't work out for me, allow me instead to establish my non-hair-metal bona fides: Iron Maiden, "Hallowed be Thy Name".
12.14.2005 4:08pm
NickM (mail) (www):
"Miss Otis Regrets", which I believe was originally by Ella Fitzgerald, should count, even though the criminal justice process in the song is interrupted by a lynching.

12.14.2005 4:11pm
Hattio (mail):
Van Diemen's Land by U2 was originally a poem that was turned into a song.
12.14.2005 4:13pm
AC (mail):
The traditional "Gallows Pole" seems worth a mention.
12.14.2005 4:15pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):
Bruce Springsteen has several relevant songs. In addition to Johnny 99 (which was already mentioned), he's got American Skin (41 Shots), which is about the Amadou Diallo; the title track from Nebraska, which is about Charles Starkweather; and Highway Patrolman and State Trooper, two other songs from the Nebraska album.
12.14.2005 4:19pm
Werner (www):
Australia also had its share of remarkable outlaws:
The "Ballad of Ned Kelly" comes to my mind...
12.14.2005 4:25pm
MattXIV (mail):
Also, I'm into C.B. - The Fall and Ed Ames - Pavement
12.14.2005 4:26pm
Stan Morris (mail):
For the Juveniole Justice system thre's "Officer Krupke" from "West Side Story"
12.14.2005 4:27pm
Stan Morris (mail):
For the Juvenile Justice system thre's "Officer Krupke" from "West Side Story"
12.14.2005 4:27pm
Mark Greenberg (mail):
J.V. Cunningham has the following epigram:

"These the assizes: here the charge, denial,
Proof and disproof; the poem is the trial.
Experience is defendant, and the jury
Peers of tradition, and the judge is fury."
12.14.2005 4:33pm
Devin McCullen (mail):
How about Tom T. Hall's "A Week in a County Jail"? And for silliness, there's "The Parking Ticket" from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode:

I've been having a bad, bad day
Come on won't you put that pad away
I'm asking you please no
It isn't right, it isn't fair
There was no parking anywere
I think that hydrant wasn't there
Why can't you let it go?
I think I've paid more than my share
I'm just a poor girl don't you care?
Hey I'm not wearing underwear.
12.14.2005 4:34pm
CLS (mail):
At the Arraignment
Debra Spencer

The courtroom walls are bare and the prisoner wears
a plastic bracelet, like in a hospital. Jesus stands beside him.
The bailiff hands the prisoner a clipboard and he puts his
thumbprint on the sheet of white paper. The judge asks,

What is your monthly income? A hundred dollars.
How do you support yourself? As a carpenter, odd jobs.
Where are you living? My friend's garage.
What sort of vehicle do you drive? I take the bus.
How do you plead? Not guilty. The judge sets bail
and a date for the prisoner's trial, calls for the interpreter
so he may speak to the next prisoners.
In a good month I eat, the third one tells him.
In a bad month I break the law.

The judge sighs. The prisoners
are led back to jail with a clink of chains.
Jesus goes with them. More prisoners
are brought before the judge.

Jesus returns and leans against the wall near us,
gazing around the courtroom. The interpreter reads a book.
The bailiff, weighed down by his gun, stands
with arms folded, alert and watchful.
We are only spectators, careful to speak
in low voices. We are so many. If we—make a sound,
the bailiff turns toward us, looking stern.

The judge sets bail and dates for other trials,
bringing his gavel down like a little axe.
Jesus turns to us. If you won't help them, he says
then do this for me. Dress in silks and jewels,
and then go naked. Be stoic, and then be prodigal.
Lead exemplary lives, then go down into prison
and be bound in chains. Which of us has never broken a law?
I died for you-a desperate extravagance, even for me.
If you can't be merciful, at least be bold.

The judge gets up to leave.

The stern bailiff cries, All rise.
12.14.2005 4:37pm
Jack (mail) (www):
Several of Gilbert and Sullivan's operas have criminal justice themes.

The Mikado:

"As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list--I've got a little list.
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed--who
never would be missed!" -- The Lord High Executioner

"My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time --
To let the punishment fit the crime,
The punishment fit the crime" -- The Mikado

The Pirates of Penzance:

"When a felon's not engaged in his employment
Or maturing his felonious little plans
His capacity for innocent enjoyment
Is just as great as any honest man's.
Our feelings we with difficulty smother
When constabulary duty's to be done
Ah, take one consideration with another
A policeman's lot is not a happy one." -- The Chief Constable
12.14.2005 4:42pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Man, if you start getting into opera you'll have your hands full. Lots and lots of law enforcement there, most of it (of course) bad. Someone mentioned Don Carlo, but don't stop there. I mean . . . Fidelio? Tosca? Cardillac? Peter Grimes? Dialogues des Carmelites? Hell, Dead Man Walking?

[Urgh, nearly typed "Camelites," which might mean smokers or Arabs, and be shoehorned into the theme either way. Sorry, couldn't help myself.]

Not much is occurring to me outside opera in the musical realm, but there is the long movement called "In the Santé [Prison]" in Shostakovich's 14th Symphony. It's one of the most powerful things he ever wrote, with this weird, ghostly fugue in the middle that's mostly pizzicato and strange little percussion noises and goes on until you're almost as mad as the prisoner protagonist. I think the poem is by Guillaume Apollinaire.
12.14.2005 4:56pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Thanks, Jack. I don't know G&S well, but I hoped someone would bring them in somewhere.

Then there's "Gee, Officer Krupke" . . .
12.14.2005 4:58pm
Joshua (mail):
The first verse of Steely Dan's first song, "Do It Again" talks about murdering someone only to be set free because the executioner's too lazy to do his job.
12.14.2005 5:22pm
Kenneth Bennight (mail):
Danny Deever by Rudyard Kipling:

"What are the bugles blowin' for?" said Files-on-Parade.

"To turn you out, to turn you out," the Color-Sergeant said.

"What makes you look so white, so white?" said Files-on-Parade.

"I'm dreadin' what I've got to watch," the Color-Sergeant said.

For they're hangin' Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play,

The regiment's in 'ollow square--they're hangin' him today;

They've taken of his buttons an' cut his stripes away,

An' they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.

"What makes the rear-rank breathe so 'ard?" said Files-on-Parade.

"It's bitter cold, it's bitter cold," the Color-Sergeant said.

"What makes that front-rank man fall down?" said Files-on-Parade.

"A touch o' sun, a touch o' sun," the Color-Sergeant said.

They are hangin' Danny Deever, they are marchin' of 'im round,

They 'ave 'alted Danny Deever by 'is coffin on the ground;

And 'e'll swing in 'alf a minute for a sneakin' shootin' hound--

O they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'!

"'Is cot was right-'and cot to mine," said Files-on-Parade.

"'E's sleepin' out an' far tonight," the Color-Sergeant said.

"I've drunk 'is beer a score o' times," said Files-on-Parade.

"'E's drinkin' bitter beer alone," the Color-Sergeant said.

They are hangin' Danny Deever, you must mark 'im to his place,

For 'e shot a comrade sleepin'--you must look 'im in the face;

Nine 'undred of 'is county and the regiment's disgrace,

While they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.

"What's that so black agin the sun?" said Files-on-Parade.

"It's Danny fightin' 'ard for life," the Color-Sergeant said.

"What's that that whimpers over'ead?" said Files-on-Parade.

"It's Danny's soul that's passin' now," the Color-Sergeant said.

For they've done with Danny Deever, you can 'ear the quickstep play,

The regiment's in column, and they're marchin' us away;

Ho! the young recruits are shakin', and they'll want their beer today,

After hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.
12.14.2005 5:52pm
just me (mail):
The Clash have been mentioned several times already, but I don't think anyone has yet mentioned "Police and Thieves" (from The Clash) and "Know Your Rights" (from Combat Rock). I think one could easily cull a full CD of law-related Clash tunes.

And if you stretch, throw in "Lovely Rita," by the Beatles, from Sgt. Pepper's. Sure, it's not really about a legal theme, but she is a meter maid, out there enforcing the law.

Paul's "Band on the Run" includes an escape from jail and running away and all that.

Thin Lizzy: "Jailbreak"
Steve Miller Band: "Take the Money and Run"
The Who: "A Legal Matter"
12.14.2005 6:01pm
James Ellis (mail):
Another Steely Dan classic, "Don't Take Me Alive"
Tom Waits: "Fall of Troy"
Boomtown Rats: "I Don't Like Mondays"

And Mr. Taxman can join the meter maid in the Beatles Stretch Limo...
12.14.2005 6:27pm
djd (mail):
AE Houseman:


The night my father got me
His mind was not on me;
He did not plague his fancy
To muse if I should be
The son you see.

The day my mother bore me
She was a fool and glad,
For all the pain I cost her,
That she had borne the lad
That borne she had.

My mother and my father
Out of the light they lie;
The warrant would not find them,
And here 'tis only I
Shall hang so high.

Oh let not man remember
The soul that God forgot,
But fetch the county kerchief
And noose me in the knot,
And I will rot.

For so the game is ended
That should not have begun.
My father and my mother
They had a likely son,
And I have none.

Often quoted by Darrow to illustrate lack of volition on the part of a murderous client.
12.14.2005 6:33pm
Social Distortion's "Prison Bound."
12.14.2005 6:36pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Officer Krupke reminds me -- what about Oingo Boingo's "Only a Lad"?
12.14.2005 6:41pm
Silicon Valley Jim (mail):
"Box of Candy and a Piece of Fruit" by Bob Gibson and Tom Paxton (about Christmas in a prison in Toronto). "Johnny Got a Gun" by Tom Paxton. "Out Among the Stars", performed by the Seldom Scene - not sure who wrote it. "A Week in a County Jail" by Tom T. Hall.
12.14.2005 6:46pm
1. "The Ballad of Cat Ballou" (from the movie, and covered by R.E.M.)
2. "Legalize It" by Peter Tosh.
12.14.2005 6:57pm
NickL922 (mail):
"The Road Goes On Forever And The Party Never Ends" - Robert Earl Keen.
12.14.2005 6:57pm
MarcL (mail):
Hey how about opera?

Kafka's Trial by Ruders (recently premiered)
Dead Man Waling (yes there is a sort of ok recent opera based on the book/movie..)
The plea negotiaions in Tosca (never trust a prosecutor)
Gilbert &Sullivan's Trial by Jury
Beethoven's Fidelio (abuse of legal power--ok so it's a terrible opera)
Dallopiccola 's The Prisoner (reliability of evidence under torure)
Britten's Billy Budd (maritime law! judges acting against own personal wishes!)
Britten's Peter Grimes (civil and mob rule)
12.14.2005 7:04pm
Ofc. Krupke (mail) (www):
The Dead Kennedys also did "Police Truck", a great song.

"L.A.P.D." - The Offspring, "Pigs" - Cypress Hill, "Mr. Probation Officer" - The Skalatones, "Rubber Bullets" - 10cc,

And, perhaps MY personal favorite, Mojo Nixon's "Destroy All Lawyers". ;-)
12.14.2005 7:25pm
Michael Newman:
One of Shakespeare's sonnets begins with the line: "But be contented. When that fell arrest without all bail shall carry me away," or something similar.
12.14.2005 7:27pm
cmn (mail) (www):
Don't forget Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Then there's the one that I'm quite surprised Eugene didn't mention already: Fit the Sixth of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark:


THEY sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.

But the Barrister, weary of proving in vain
That the Beaver's lace-making was wrong,
Fell asleep, and in dreams saw the creature quite plain
That his fancy had dwelt on so long.

He dreamed that he stood in a shadowy Court,
Where the Snark, with a glass in its eye,
Dressed in gown, bands, and wig, was defending a pig
On the charge of deserting its sty.

The Witnesses proved, without error or flaw,
That the sty was deserted when found:
And the Judge kept explaining the state of the law
In a soft under-current of sound.

The indictment had never been clearly expressed,
And it seemed that the Snark had begun,
And had spoken three hours, before any one guessed
What the pig was supposed to have done.

The Jury had each formed a different view
(Long before the indictment was read),
And they all spoke at once, so that none of them knew
One word that the others had said.

"You must know-" said the Judge: but the Snark exclaimed "Fudge!"
That statute is obsolete quite!
Let me tell you, my friends, the whole question depends
On an ancient manorial right.

"In the matter of Treason the pig would appear
To have aided, but scarcely abetted:
While the charge of Insolvency fails, it is clear,
If you grant the plea 'never indebted.'

"The fact of Desertion I will not dispute:
But its guilt, as I trust, is removed
(So far as relates to the costs of this suit)
By the Alibi which has been proved.

"My poor client's fate now depends on your votes."
Here the speaker sat down in his place,
And directed the Judge to refer to his notes
And briefly to sum up the case.

But the Judge said he never had summed up before;
So the Snark undertook it instead,
And summed it so well that it came to far more
Than the Witnesses ever had said!

When the verdict was called for, the Jury declined,
As the word was so puzzling to spell;
But they ventured to hope that the Snark wouldn't mind
Undertaking that duty as well.

So the Snark found the verdict, although, as it owned,
It was spent with the toils of the day:
When it said the word "GUILTY!" the Jury all groaned
And some of them fainted away.

Then the Snark pronounced sentence, the Judge being quite
Too nervous to utter a word:
When it rose to its feet, there was silence like night,
And the fall of a pin might be heard.

"Transportation for life" was the sentence it gave,
"And then to be fined forty pound."
The Jury all cheered, though the Judge said he feared
That the phrase was not legally sound.

But their wild exultation was suddenly checked
When the jailer informed them, with tears,
Such a sentence would have not the slightest effect,
As the pig had been dead for some years.

The Judge left the Court, looking deeply disgusted
But the Snark, though a little aghast,
As the lawyer to whom the defence was intrusted,
Went bellowing on to the last.

Thus the Barrister dreamed, while the bellowing seemed
To grow every moment more clear:
Till he woke to the knell of a furious bell,
Which the Bellman rang close at his ear.
12.14.2005 7:37pm
Jocelyn (mail):
Iolanthe (another G &S opera) has lots of legal themes, but not all criminal law (some civil).

Another Warren Zevon song, from his last album called "The Wind" is called "Prison Grove" about a death-row prisoner.
12.14.2005 7:37pm
Sunni Maravillosa (www):
The Jury, by Morphine. Lyrics available here (popup alert).
12.14.2005 7:47pm
Sunni Maravillosa (www):
Just thought of another I've not seen mentioned yet, Rush's Lock and Key link goes to the lyrics, for anyone who's interested.
12.14.2005 7:51pm
E. Sherwin:
Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun" implies a justification defense for a homicide:

They say when Janie was arrested
They found him underneath a train
But man, he had it comin'
Now that Janie's Got A Gun
She ain't never gonna be the same

Janie's Got A Gun
Janie's Got A Gun
Her dog day's just begun
Now everybody is on the run
Tell me now it's untrue
What did her daddy do

He jacked the little bitty baby
The man has got to be insane
They say the spell that he was under
The lightnin' and the thunder
Knew that someone had to stop the rain


She had to take him down easy
And put a bullet in his brain
She said 'cause nobody believes me
The man was such a sleeze
He ain't never gonna be the same
12.14.2005 8:13pm
Nicholas Buccola (mail):
"Penitentiary" by Citizen Cope
12.14.2005 8:14pm
Craig El:
One of my former professors wrote a poem called "The Church of Reasonable Doubt." I'm not sure what it all means, but here's a link.
12.14.2005 8:36pm
EGrim (mail):
Of the several Childe Ballads mentioned, I have not noticed "Whiskey in the Jar," which is notable not only for its intrinsic quality, but also because Metallica chose to do a cover of it (quite popular on heavy-metal radio in the Twin Cities, Minn., where I went to law school at the UofMN).

My absolute favorite law related bit of literature is Mark Twain's "Ye Sentimental Law Student." It is one of his early works, written for the Virginia City's Territorial Enterprise in or about 1863. Some of you may have noted the recent Wall Street Journal article, In Nevada, Reporters Packed Quick Pens and Quicker Guns (Monday, Dec. 5, 2005, page B1).

I have just checked and, contrary to my recollection, it is prose and not poetry. I hope I may be forgiven for posting it anyway in the hope that someone else may enjoy it as much as I:

To the loveliness to whom these presents shall come, greeting: - This is a lovely day, my own Mary; its unencumbered sunshine reminds me of your happy face, and in the imagination the same doth now appear before me. Such sights and scenes as this ever remind me, the party of the second part, of you, my Mary, the peerless party of the first part. The view from the lonely and segregated mountain peak, of this portion of what is called and known as Creation, with all and singular the hereditaments and appurtenances thereunto appertaining and belonging, is inexpressively grand and inspiring; and I gaze, and gaze, while my soul is filled with holy delight, and my heart expands to receive thy spirit-presence, as aforesaid. Above me is the glory of the sun; around him float the messenger clouds, ready alike to bless the earth with gentle rain, or visit it with lightning, and thunder, and destruction; far below the said sun and the messenger clouds aforesaid, lying prone upon the earth in the verge of the distant horizon, like the burnished shield of a giant, mine eyes behold a lake, which is described and set forth in maps as the Sink of Carson; nearer, in the great plain, I see the Desert, spread abroad like the mantle of a Colossus, glowing by turns, with the warm light of the sun, hereinbefore mentioned, or darkly shaded by the messenger clouds aforesaid; flowing at right angles with said Desert, and adjacent thereto, I see the silver and sinuous thread of the river, commonly called Carson, which winds its tortuous course through the softly tinted valley, and disappears amid the gorges of the bleak and snowy mountains - a simile of man! - leaving the pleasant valley of Peace and Virtue to wander among the dark defiles of Sin, beyond the jurisdiction of the kindly beaming sun aforesaid! And about said sun, and the said clouds, and around the said mountains, and over the plain and the river aforesaid, there floats a purple glory - a yellow mist - as airy and beautiful as the bridal veil of a princess, about to be wedded according to the rites and ceremonies pertaining to, and established by, the laws or edicts of the kingdom or principality wherein she doth reside, and whereof she hath been and doth continue to be, a lawful sovereign or subject. Ah! my Mary, it is sublime! it is lovely! I have declared and made known, and by these presents do declare and make known unto you, that the view from Sugar Loaf Peak, as hereinbefore described and set forth, is the loveliest picture with which the hand of the Creator has adorned the earth, according to the best of my knowledge and belief, so help me God.

Given under my hand, and in the spirit-presence of the bright being whose love has restored the light of hope to a soul once groping in the darkness of despair, on the day and year first above written.


Law Student, and Notary Public in and for the said County of Storey, and Territory of Nevada.

To Miss Mary Links, Virginia (and may the laws have her in their holy keeping).
12.14.2005 8:47pm
A.F.S. (mail):
- Waylon Jennings "Duke's of Hazzard The Song": "makin' their way the only way they know how, that's just alittle bit more than the law will allow" "been in trouble with the law since the day they was born"
- Bruce Springsteen "Atlantic City": "do a little job for a friend" "the D.A. can't get no relief" "I've got debts no honest men can pay"
- Lee Dorsey "Working on the Chain Gang"
- Bruce Springsteen "Darlington County"
- Corey Morrow "Nashville Blues": "I told the cops and the bankers goodbye, they said don't let us catch you because you owe us your life"
- Led Zeppelin "Gallows Pole"
- Steve Earle "Devil's Right Hand"
- Grateful Dead "Mama Tried" "you must have the wrong many because the pistol is the devil's right hand"
12.14.2005 9:23pm
A.F.S. (mail):
Last one's

- Crosby Stills Nash and Young "Almost Cut My Hair": "it increases my paranoia . . . like looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing a police car"
- Creedence Clearwater Revival "Midnight Special" cover
- Bobby Darin "Mack the Knife"
- Don Henley "Smuggler's Blues"
12.14.2005 9:35pm
Steve Waldman (mail):
Leonard Cohen has several.

Probably the best is "A Singer Must Die". Here's a good chunk of the lyrics, from memory and unverified, but the song is good enough I could probably recite the whole thing:

The courtroom is quiet,
But who will confess?
Is it true you've betrayed us?
The answer is yes.

Then read me the list
of the crimes that are mine,
I will ask for the mercy
that you love to decline.

And all the ladies go moist,
and the judge has no choice.
A singer must die
for the lie in his voice.

And I thank you,
I thank you,
For doing your duty.
You keepers of truth,
You guardians of beauty.

Your vision is right,
My vision was wrong,
I'm sorry for smudging the air
with my song...
12.14.2005 10:13pm
Hip Hop features a lot of criminal justice themes. I couldn't even begin some sort of exhaustive list. Some of the random classics include:

Grand Master Flash "The Message"
Mos Def "Mathematics"
Notorious B.I.G. "Ten Crack Commandments"
Jay-Z "Hard Knock Life"
Styles-P featuring Jadakiss "We Thugs my Ni**as" (classic line: "I know madd ni**as doing life bids in jail/and they way smarter than the white kids in Yale")

So many more...
12.14.2005 10:14pm
Lots of celtic songs.

"The Black Velvet Band," about a man framed for robbery and transported to Australia

"Roddy McCorley," about an Irish rebel going to be hanged

"Whiskey in the Jar," about an Irish outlaw (also featuring police home invasion with a warranty)

"Hills of Connemara," about moonshiners escaping the cops
12.14.2005 10:22pm
Floyd Selbst (mail):
One mentioned Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife" but did not mention that it came from Kurt Weill's "Threepenny Opera" which deals entirely with the subject. And, did anyone mention "Birmingham Jail"?
12.14.2005 10:36pm
Thief (mail) (www):
-I cannot believe nobody has mentioned the Blues Brothers' version of "Jailhouse Rock!" (Which, IIRC, in the movie was filmed in Joliet Prison in Illinois.)

-Blues Traveler did a strange little ditty about the execution of a multiple murderer called "Psycho Joe."

-More on the mental illness aspect: an old comedy tune about an obsessed lover being involuntarily committed called "They're Coming to Take Me Away." (I believe one group that covered it was Barnes and Barnes; it was also a staple of the Dr. Demento show.)

-One more good one by Johnny Cash, "I Hung My Head" about a boy who accidentally kills someone with his brother's rifle, and recieves a death sentence.

-Simon and Garfunkel's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," a juvenile justice case. No idea what the narrator did to earn a trip to "the house of detention," but he made the cover of Newsweek for it.

-Classic Sopranos Music moment: the mashup of Sting's "I'll Be Watching You" with the Peter Gunn theme as the FBI agents are planting the bugs in Tony's house.

-More Sopranos music: "State Trooper" by Bruce Springsteen, about a guy pleading for a cop not to stop him.

-Toby Keith &Willie Nelson's "Beer For My Horses." From the perspective of a law enforcement officer; takes a very hard line about crime: "Granpappy told my pappy back in my day son / A man had to answer for the wicked thing he done / Take all the rope in Texas, find a tall oak tree / Round up all of 'em bad boys, hang 'em high in the steet."
12.14.2005 10:47pm
Thief (mail) (www):
er, street...
12.14.2005 10:49pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
Paul Simon's _Capeman_ is about the capeman murder and the question of redemption.

Transcript from Imus interview

Real audio

The final song ``Trailways Bus'' on the _Songs from the Capeman_ CD, about the Capeman, final stanza

But he can't leave his fears behind,
He recalls each fatal thrust
The screams carried by the wind,
Phantom figures in the dust

There's a misdirection in it that imitates Wordsworth in the Lucy quatrains, here the missing word for the missing redemption, namely tears.
12.14.2005 11:55pm
Anthony Holder (mail):
Mary Parker's Lament is about an Irishwoman who was transported to Australia for stealing, and the life she made for herself there, after marrying a convict to keep herself safe. Betsy McGovern recorded it, but I don't think she ever has produced CDs of that recording (I have a cassette tape that I've ripped).
12.15.2005 12:08am
Jim Anderson (mail) (www):
System of a Down, "Prison Song." Where liberal politics and Armenian-style alterna-metal collide.
12.15.2005 12:45am
I was just about to put Prison System down myself--a great description of the song as well!

I actually made a mix CD of criminal justice themed songs one summer when I worked at an anti death penalty organization. I don't have the CD anymore or I'd write the whole list (though a number--Long Black Veil, Prison System, F*** the Police--have already been listed.) Here are a couple off the top of my head that I didn't see listed so far:

KRS-One: Sound of the Police
The Hot Boys: Tuesdays and Thursdays (it's about how the police come to sweep their neighborhoods and hassle them on Tuesdays and Thursdays, very good song)
Prince Paul - Men in Blue (feat. Everlast)
Offspring - Keep 'em Separated (I don't much care for the song, but it was their first big hit and is surprisingly a conservative anthem that advocates putting kids in adult prisons)
Lee Hazlewood - Hutchinson Jail and Pour Man
12.15.2005 4:14am
Brian McKim (mail) (www):
"Indiana Wants Me" by R. Dean Taylor even has sirens at the end.

"If a man ever needed dyin' he did
No one had the right to say what he said about you
And it's so cold and lonely here without you
Out there the laws are coming
I'm scared and so tired of running"

"Indiana wants me. Lord, I can't go back there."

Rinse, lather, repeat.

Marty Robbins' "The Hangin' Tree"
12.15.2005 5:01am
Defending the Indefensible:
David Byrne's "The Dream Police"? Wasn't that Cheap Trick?

Btw, OT, but check this out:
David Byrne gets RIAA warning
12.15.2005 5:54am
John Dougan (mail) (www):
Of course, there is always the irregular procedure of the Jazz police...

Leonard Cohen - Jazz Police Lyrics

Can you tell me why the bells are ringing?
Nothing's happened in a million years
I've been sitting here since Wednesday morning
Wednesday morning can't believe my ears
Jazz police are looking through my folders
Jazz police are talking to my niece
Jazz police have got their final orders
Jazzer, drop your axe, it's Jazz police!

Jesus taken serious by the many
Jesus taken joyous by a few
Jazz police are paid by J. Paul Getty
Jazzers paid by J. Paul Getty II

Jazz police I hear you calling
Jazz police I feel so blue
Jazz police I think I'm falling,
I'm falling for you

Wild as any freedom loving racist
I applaud the actions of the chief
Tell me now oh beautiful and spacious
Am I in trouble with the Jazz police?

Jazz police are looking through my folders ...

They will never understand our culture
They'll never understand the Jazz police
Jazz police are working for my mother
Blood is thicker margarine than grease

Let me be somebody I admire
Let me be that muscle down the street
Stick another turtle on the fire
Guys like me are mad for turtle meat

Jazz police I hear you calling
Jazz police I feel so blue
Jazz police I think I'm falling,
I'm falling for you
12.15.2005 6:38am
John Dougan (mail) (www):
Criminal Mind
Lyrics and Words by Lawrence Gowan
from his album Strange Animal

You've seen my hands are steady
You've seen my face before
Soon you can take your last look
And they'll close the door
I stand accused before you
I have no tears to cry
And you will never break me
Until the day I die

A criminal mind was all I
All I've ever known
They've tried to reform me
Cause I'm made of cold stone

My criminal mind is all I
All I've ever had
Ask one who's known me
If I'm really so bad...
I am

I've spent my life behind these steel bars
I've paid my debt in time
But being brought to justice
That was my only crime
I don't regret action
I'd do the same again
These prison walls secure me
And I'm numb to pain

A criminal mind was all I
All I've ever known
They've tried to reform me
But I'm made of cold stone

My criminal mind is all I
All I've ever had
Ask one who's known me
If I'm really so bad...
I am

Before you hand me over
Before you read my sentence
I'd like to say a few words
Here in my own defense
Some people struggle daily
They struggle with their conscience 'til the end
I have no guilt to haunt me
I feel no wrong intent

A criminal mind is all I
All I've ever known
Don't try to reform me
Cause I'm made of cold stone

My criminal mind is all I
All I've ever had
Ask one who's known me
If I'm really so bad...
I am

Oh I am
Oh I am
I'm made of cold stone
Made of cold stone
I'm just like these prison walls
A criminal mind
12.15.2005 6:42am
Honey Badger (mail):
"And Justice for All" --Metallica.
"Breaking the Law" --Judas Priest.
"On Parole" --Motorhead.

The Congressional corruption hearings in "Little Tin Box" from Fiorello; George and Ira Gershwin's hilarious scenes with the Supreme Court Justices in the 30s musical "Of Thee I Sing":

We're the one, two, three, four,
five, six, seven, eight, nine
Supreme Court Judges.
As the super Solomons of this great nation
We will supervise today's inauguration,
And we'll sup'rintend the wedding celebration
In a manner official and judicial.
One, two, three, four,
five, six, seven, eight, nine
Supreme Court Judges!
We have powers that are positively regal;
Only we can take a law and make it legal.

They're (We're) the A.K.s who give the O.K.s!
One, two, three, four,
five, six, seven, eight, nine
Supreme Court Judges!

etc. Good stuff!
12.15.2005 7:02am
Eric Jablow (mail):
"Lizzie Borden," by the Chad Mitchell Trio, because Massachusetts is a far cry from New York. The plot of "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" springs from a corrupt judge framing a simple barber and having him transported to Australia.
12.15.2005 8:48am
Nobody (mail):
Dupree's Diamond Blues and Friend of the Devil by The Grateful Dead (probably lots of other GD tunes I can't think of right now)

Kid Charlemagne by Steely Dan
12.15.2005 9:36am
JDB (mail) (www):
A few more obscure ones:

"Robbery, Assault, &Battery" by Genesis
"The Ballad of Billy Grey (The Crime, Part 1)" and "The Fugitive (The Crime, Part 2)" by Grey Lady Down
"The Legend of the Illinois Enema Bandit" (supposedly a true story!) and "San Ber'dino" by Frank Zappa
"Country Doctor" by Bruce Hornsby (about a doc killing his wife)
"Peruvian Skies" by Dream Theater, "Family Business" by Fish and "Just Changing Hands" by IQ (all about domestic violence)
"Bringing It Back" by somebody, but covered by Kansas
"Holloway Girl" by Marillion
12.15.2005 10:15am
JosephSlater (mail):
First, this is, as the kids say: best. thread. ever.
Although most of the good ones have been taken (cool that fans of Steeleye Span, 80s punk, and the Dropkick Murphys read this), my contributions follow.

The old English folk song "Geordie." The best known one is the "My Geordie will be hanged with a silver chain" for stealing the King's dear, and he's hung while the wife laments, but there's a Scottish version (done by June Tabor &Martin Carthy) in which the wife rescues the man.

Elvis Costello, "Let Him Dangle" (murder and death penatly).
Arlo Guthrie "Coming into Los Angeles" (he's "bringing in a couple of keys/Don't touch my bag if you please, Mr. Customs Man").

Dixie Chicks, "Goodbye, Earl" (killing as response to domestic violence).

Jimmy Cliff, "Johnny Too Bad" (various crimes, running from police).

James McMurtry, "Terry" (minor confined for a violent crime, great song]

The Slits, "Shoplifting"

Sublime, "Date Rape" (includes crime, courtroom scene, and jail scene).

Joe Walsh, "Life's Been Good" (loses driver's license as a consequence of speeding).

Tom Dooley The Kingston Trio (and others)

I’m a Lonesome Fugitive Merle Haggard

Legend of Bonnie and Clyde Merle Haggard

Starkville City Jail Johnny Cash

There's also an obscure Jethro Tull song called "Big [?] and Mando" about an actual event involving someone stealing the band's mandolin.
12.15.2005 11:04am
MDJD2B (mail):
The folk song, "Mary Hamilton," covered by Joan Baez, among others. I think it also is in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, burt I'm not sure. A song about infanticide.
12.15.2005 11:16am
RHD (mail):
Some more examples of criminal justice from the opera stage (in addition to those noted above):

- Tosca, especially Act III
- La Fanciulla del West (the execution that wasn't)
- Manon (exiled to the desert of Louisiana for sundry infractions)
- Dialog of the Carmelities (death to the nuns!)
- The Ring (theft, greed and breach of contract all result in the death of the gods -- a new twist on capital crimes)
12.15.2005 11:37am
SWG (mail):
Billy Bragg's "Rotting on Remand" from the Workers Playtime album has some choice lyrics about the criminal justice system. Here's an excerpt:

"I stood before the Judge that day
As he refused me bail
And I knew that I would spend my time
Awaiting trial in jail
I said there is no justice
As they led me out of the door
And the Judge said, 'This isn't a court of justice, son
This is a court of law.'"

You may not agree with Bragg's politics, but the song (the whole album really) is great.
12.15.2005 12:32pm
Honey Badger (mail):

"Just the good ol' boys,
Never meanin' no harm,
Beats all you've ever saw,
been in trouble with the law
since the day they was born.

Straight'nin' the curve,
Flat'nin' the hills.
Someday the moutain might get 'em,
but the law never will.

Makin' their way,
The only way they know how,
That's just a little bit more
than the law will allow.

Just good ol' boys,
Wouldn't change if they could,
Fightin' the system
like a true modern day Robin Hood."
12.15.2005 1:42pm
Little Sadie.

I know the version sung by Doc Watson, but there are many others. Quoted from memory, so may be off a little. What I love about it is the matter-of-fact cold-bloodedness of it. The murder, for example occupies two lines and the narrator never feels the least necessity of explaining himself or his motives.

Went out last night for to make a little round
I met little Sadie and I shot her down
Went back home and got into bed
A .44 smokeless under my head

I begin to think what I deed I done
I grabbed my hat and away I run
Made a good run, but I run too slow
They overtook me in Jericho

Standing on the corner reading the bill
When up stepped the sheriff from Thomasville,
Says, 'Young man, ain't your name Brown?
Remember the night you shot Sadie down.'

I said yes, Sir, my name is Lee,
and I murdered little Sadie in the first degree,
First degree and second degree,
If you got any papers, won't you read 'em to me

Took me downtown and dressed me in black,
They put me on a train and they started me back,
Crammed me back in the county jail.
And I had nobody for to go my bail.

The judge and the jury they took their stand,
The judge had his papers in his right hand.
Forty-one days, forty-one nights,
Forty-one years to wear the ball and the stripes
12.15.2005 1:48pm
Nortius Maximus (www):
Some more things I think might not have been mentioned:

Todd Rundgren's "Black Mariah" is atmospheric but abstract.

There's also his "The Ultimate Crime", which is in part an anti-capital-punishment song but has lots of other thought-provoking elements, at least to me.

Another 10cc song, "Good Morning Judge".

The Oingo Boingo song, "Only a Lad".

Kate Bush's "Night of the Swallow" is about a woman trying to talk a man out of doing something illegal, and the man trying to do something that's by his lights brave and/or lucrative.

Her "There Goes a Tenner" is a reflection on noir/Hammer gangster film plots.

Tom Waits's "Gun Street Girl" is about a fugitive.

This is a cool thread!
12.15.2005 2:32pm
BobVDV (mail):
In "Bubba Shot The Jukebox" it is reported "Reckless discharge of a gun, that's what the officers are sayin'", and Bubba's defense was, "Reckless? Hell! I hit just where I was aimin'!"
12.15.2005 4:09pm
Eric Jablow (mail):
"Copperhead Road," by Steve Earle.

Many of the Icelandic sagas involved civil lawsuits. Read "Njal's Saga."
12.15.2005 10:13pm
Carlos B:
Wow, you guys really don't listen to rap/R&B music at all, huh?

Here's a great, recent one. It's called "Locked Up," by a brilliant young artist named Akon. If this ain't what it's like, it ought to be.

Im steady tryna find a motive,
Why do what i do?,
Freedom aint gettin no closer,
No matter how far i go,
My car is stolen, no registration,
Cops patrolin, and now they done stop me,
And i get locked up,

They won't let me out, they won't let me out, (im locked up)
They won't let me out no, they wont let me out, (im locked up)
They won't let me out, they won't let me out, (im locked up)
They won't let me out no, they won't let me out

Headin up town to ria,
Back with a couple peeps,
Caught a blocks on fire,
Under covers dressed as fiends,
Makin so much money,
Ride up smooth and fast,
Put away the stash,
And as i sold the last bag fucked around and got locked up

They won't let me out, they won't let me out, (my nigga im locked up)
They won't let me out no, they wont let me out, (i got locked up)
They won't let me out, they won't let me out, (baby girl im locked up)
They won't let me out no, they won't let me out

Cuz visitation no longer comes by,
Seems like they forgot about me,
Commissary is getting empty,
My cell mates getting food without me,
Can't wait to get out and move forward with my life,
Got a family that loves me and wants me to do right
But instead Im here locked up

They won't let me out, they won't let me out,
(ohhh im locked up)
They won't let me out no, they wont let me out,
(my nigga im locked up)
They won't let me out, they won't let me out, (im locked up)
They won't let me out no, they won't let me out

Maybe a visit (they won't let me out)
Send me some magazines (they won't let me out)
Send me some money orders (they won't let me out, no)
Maybe a visit baby (they won't let me out)
Cuz im locked up, they won't let me out.
Wheres my lawyer? (they won't let me out)
Im locked up, they won't let me out, no.
Get me outta here (they won't let me out)
Im locked up, they won't let me out, they won't let me out.
Baby Im locked up they won't let me out, no
Where's my niggaz?
On the lock-down.
Damn, im locked up, they won't let me out.
Im locked up, they won't let me out.
Ohhh... they won't let me out.
Can you please accept my phone calls?
Cuz Im locked up, locked up, locked up.
12.15.2005 11:11pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
Oh, we certainly can't omit The Kingston Trio's classic "The Tijuana Jail":

We went one day about a month ago (a-ha-ha)
To have a little fu-un (a-ha) Mexico
We ended up in a gambling spot (oh yeah) a-ha-ha
Where the liquor flow-owed and the dice were hot

So here we a-are in the Tijuana Jail
Ain’t got no frie-ends to go our bail
So here we’ll sta-ay ‘cause we can’t pa-a-a-a-ay
Just send our ma-ail to the Tijuana Jail

I was shootin’ dice, rakin’ in the dough (long green)
And then I hea-ard the whistle blow
We started to run when a man in blue
Said "señor, come with me ‘cause I want you."

So here we a-are in the Tijuana Jail
Ain’t got no frie-ends to go our bail
So here we’ll sta-ay ‘cause we can’t pay
Just send our mail to the Tijuana Jail (shout)

Just five hundred dollars and they’ll set us free (shouted excitement)
I couldn’t raise a penny if ya threatened me
I know five "hunderd" don’t sound like much
But just try to find somebody to touch

So here we are in the Tijuana Jail
Ain’t got no frie-ends to go our bail
So here we’ll sta-ay ‘cause we can’t pay
Just send our mai-il to the Tijuana Jail

So here we a-are in the Tijuana Ja-a-a-a-il
Ain’t got no frie-eh-ends to go our bail
So here we’ll sta-ay ‘cause we can’t pa-ay
Just send our mai-il to the Tijuana Jail
12.16.2005 1:14am
Z (mail):
"Seven Curses" (Bob Dylan)
12.16.2005 3:45am
NickM (mail) (www):
I'm surprised no other fans of the Dr. Demento show have mentioned "Friendly Neighborhood Narco-Agent," by Jeff Jaisun or "Santa Got a DWI," by Sherwin Linton.

12.16.2005 5:48am
From memory here:

Blondie, 'The Hardest Part', about an armoured car robbery.

Irish Rovers, 'Wasn't That A Party?', plans to use his time in the slammer to recover from the hangover...


12.16.2005 4:00pm
Jeremy Nimmo (mail):
'Captive Honour' by ol' Megadeth comes to mind. Didn't Thin Lizzy do a metal version of 'Whiskey in the jar' first?
12.18.2005 8:57pm
"When you're hot you're hot" by Jerry Reed
12.19.2005 1:42pm