"Prisoners" as written by and Regina Spektor....
All of the prisoners serving life sentences
Wait for the earth to suddenly shake
For the walls to somehow suddenly come crumbling, tumbling and
For the bars to somehow magically break

Aw, there's nothing wrong with them
That a thousand bucks can't fix
That a thousand arms can't hold down
In the ground they're tattooing the stones with
cusses like cavemen - your momma was here

But they want to run through the air with no barriers or obstacles
Gunmen or guard dogs or priests
And to rise from the mud and start over and over
With the people all dead.

If Hans Christian Andersen could've had his way with me
Then none of this shit would have ever gone down
In my cell I'm tattooing myself with
Mermaids and swallows and though I do swallow
My mama thinks I'm grown but I'm really just little
And someday I will remember

Someday I will remember
Someday I will remember


Lyrics submitted by tasteslikeG0LD

"Prisoners" as written by Regina Spektor

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Prisoners song meanings
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  • +7
    General CommentWhat more could be said about this song? I suppose, literally, it should be taken that a criminal, in prison obviously, is speaking about her dreams of being free, which happen to be in common with the rest of the prisoners.

    The line "and [if] hans christian anderson could have had easy his way with me" is interesting as I take it to mean that her childhood was not the normal one where parents might read books to their children. HCA is an interesting choice because he wrote fables about human nature, and it seems to say that had she had parents that taught her the lessons to be a good person, she wouldn't be where she is now, in prison.

    Later, she mentions how her mother thinks she is grown up but that she is, in fact, just little. It's as if, even with her tough exterior of tattoos (as tough as mermaids and swallows can be anyhow) she recognizes that she is still just a small child inside in need of love and comfort and ultimately, a parent.

    I am most interest however in what she is waiting to remember. It seems to be an important part of the song. Any suggestions?
    Hippias_Rexon October 24, 2005   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI like to start at the literal level and then go deeper if need be, because I feel like a lot of"_____ is a symbol for this, _____ is a symbol for that, and everything is a symbol". I'm not saying that that's necessarily a bad way to interpret things, but I just prefer my way. So, with that said...

    "all of the prisoners serving life sentences
    wait for the earth to suddenly shake
    for the walls to somehow suddenly come crumbling, tumbling
    and for the bars to somehow magically break"

    Prisoners don't want to be in prison.

    "oh there's nothing wrong with them that a thousand books can't fix
    that a thousand arms can't hold down"

    Our law books, our psychology books will set them straight, and if they don't, then all our cops and guards and their arms (both body parts and guns) will have to do the job.

    "on the ground they're tattooing the stones with cusses like cavemen
    your momma was here"

    That stereotypical image of a prison... out in the yard breaking the stones, and instead of just chipping away at them, they graffiti them. I've never been to prison so I'm not sure if that actually goes down, but you always see it in the movies; it's a common image.

    "but they wanna run through the air with no barriers or obstacles
    gunmen or guard dogs or priests
    and to rise from the mud and start over and over
    with the people all
    DEAD"

    This is such a hopeful part until the last word. To me this whole part, with the lighter music and the images of running freely --with the people all dead!-- is like a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that this is some f'ed up shit that these life-sentencers are thinking... or maybe it's some f'ed up shit we're thinking the life-sentencers are thinking.

    "uh uh uh uh uh
    if hans christian anderson could have had his way with me
    then none of this shit would have ever gone down"

    I don't know. I'm kind of following the "goodness and morality" argument here. Especially since it has to do with childhood (HCA and his fairy tales commonly read to children, I mean). But I'm still unsure.

    "in my cell i'm tattooing myself with mermaids and swallows
    and though i do swallow
    my momma thinks i'm grown but i'm really just little"

    I do swallow -- hello, male inmate prison behaviour? This doesn't seem like there should be much of an issue on interpretation. The other parts that evoke images of childhood ("mermaid and swallows", "i'm really just little") just mean, to me, that "I'm" just misguided, not a bad person.

    "and someday i will remember
    someday i will remember
    someday i will remember"

    Again, not sure. But I do like when she chops the words up into a million pieces!

    Oh, I should have mentioned, I see Regina as singing from a male perspective in this song. But the rest of the song... I've pretty much got it down in my head. Even if it's all wrong, that's how I like to see it.
    phunkometryon April 21, 2008   Link
  • +2
    My OpinionMaybe this song is tied into "Apres Moi". This songs talks about rising from the mud and starting over and "Apres Moi" talks about "I'm not my own, it's not my choice." When you are a prisoner, you are not your own free woman/man.

    Plus, since this song is right after "Mary Ann" on the CD "Meets the Gravediggers and Other Short Stories", this prisoner should most likely be Mary Ann. (she killed Stan Butler and now she's in jail for it)
    mariibabiion October 28, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think "and someday i will remember" means that she'll wake up, still little, with none of that ever having happened.


    I'd also like to add the lyric "dirt" is wrong it's supposed to be "and though I do swallow".
    Fuchsiaon March 06, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAre you all sure that it doesn't say "I love the prisoners serving life sentences"?

    Another thing that is interesting but I have no idea how it pertains to the song is that Hans Christian Anderson was rumored to be a homosexual. He also never took a woman to his bed, and they found in his journal that the only satisfaction he had was masturbation. So who knows what the "If Hans Christian Anderson could have had his way with me" reallly means.
    Valkyrioon August 23, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love this song. The composition of it and her voice... flawless.

    I think that the much debated about Hans Christian Anderson line is more in reference to what fairy tales were invented for: To scare kids into behaving. So therefore, "If Hans Christian Anderson could've had his way with me" (If I had gotten what he wanted me to get from his fairy tales: morals, sense of good and bad), "Then none of this shit would've ever gone down." (Then I wouldn't be locked up in this hell hole, would I?) Makes sense, no?

    Love the song though..... Regina rocks.
    RachelSkywalkeron October 17, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSorry, i just listened again and i think it goes

    and someday i will remember HER
    someday i will remember HER
    someday i will remember HER

    probably as in her mother.
    imBROOKSjustdealon January 21, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Commentwell, H.C. Andersen wrote the Little Mermaid, so I think that pretty well explains the mermaid tattoo reference. No one else said that, so I thought I might as well point it out. As for the rest of the song, what the rest of you said.
    jetfan1824on May 31, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this song is, in general, about prisoners wanting to break free of their cells and start over trying to be good people again. The narrator still feels confused and bewildered at the world like a child, which probably caused her to commit the crimes that landed her in jail. I'm not sure what the Hans Christian Anderson reference could mean (though the topic of his sexuality is interesting), nor the line 'Someday I will remember', though.

    'Oh there's nothing wrong with them that a thousand bucks can't fix
    That a thousand arms can't hold down'
    These lines speak strongly to me because they are about, I guess, futility. There's nothing wrong with the prisoners that's really irreparable, she's saying, and them and their feelings and ideas aren't unstoppable, they can be restrained. So it's a bit sad, thinking about those prisoners beat down by everything. But at the same time, I think this is a bit sarcastic, with the idea of money being a panacea and a great number of people conspiring to hold down one person that thinks differently from them.

    I am developing an unhealthy obsession with this song. 'Someday I will remember' and onward is one of the most amazing things I've ever heard in music. No lie.
    mister care-too-muchon January 17, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Comment'but they wanna run through the air with no barriers or obstacles
    gunmen or guard dogs or priests
    and to rise from the mud and start over and over
    with the people all dead'
    To me, it seems like the prisoners just want to be freed and almost forget what it is that they've done, so their consciences will be light and 'run through the air.'
    The mud seems like a play on the archetypal baptism and instead of being cleansed in water, they can overcome their crimes without being actually cleansed of them.
    That, and the dead part seems like they truly hate the ones who judge them and in their angry mindsets, they want them all to die. xP

    ...And I could've sworn the line was 'and oh, I do swallow,' a reference to oral sex.
    Knitteron July 24, 2009   Link

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