There's a prison on Route 41
A home to my father, first cousin, and son
And I visit on every weekend
Not with my body but with prayers that I send

I've a reason for my absentee
And no lack of love for my dear family
But my savior is not Christ the Lord
But one named Virginia whom I live my life for

Because I owe mine to her
And I'd rot in that prison for sure
If she'd tossed me aside
And not shown me the way to abide

By the creed, the law of the land
So unlike my uncle, grandpa, and great aunt
Whom I'd most likely see every day
If not for the righteous pair of Virginia's legs

There's a prison on Route 41
Home to my mother, stepbrother, and son
And I'd tear down that jail by myself
If not for Virginia who made me somebody else

And I owe all to her
I’d rot in that prison for sure
If she'd tossed me aside
And not shown me the way to abide

By the precepts of her purity
So unlike the habits of my whole family
Whom I only see down on my knees
In prayer by Virginia whom I live for to please


Lyrics submitted by Mellow_Harsher

Prison on Route 41 song meanings
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9 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentThere are two major interpretations borne rather well by these lyrics. In the first, literal interpretation, four generations of the speaker's family, man and woman alike, are housed in the same prison. The righteous and pure Virginia was the powerful influence that spared the speaker from that fate (sort of like Claudia Feathers to William Munny in Unforgiven). Out of gratitude, the speaker spends all of his time keeping Virginia happy. Rightly so, for that would be one deeply troubled family.

    In the second, the figurative "prison" is the speaker's relationship with Virginia, who has suceeded in completely cutting the speaker off from his family of origin, including his own son (presumably borne by another woman). The speaker's family lives in a house on Route 41, which Virginia has convinced the speaker is somehow akin to a prison.

    The latter of these two interpretations stands as a parable against mistaking a lover for a savior (elevated above Christ the Lord), one without whom one would oneself "surely die". It also reminds us of a frequent, and frequently ignored, warning sign in many troubled relationships, i.e. one partner attempting to cut the other off from friends and family in an effort to eliminate competing influences and/or to weaken and disorient one's partner, who will then become more dependent.
    Chombison February 06, 2006   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI think the last verse of this song is pretty clear:

    By the precepts of her purity
    So unlike the habits of my whole family
    Whom I only see down on my knees
    In prayer by Virginia whom I live for to please

    In this song, Virginia is the Virgin Mary, the protagonist's savior whose immaculate conception made her pure. He prays to her for guidance on his knees, and owes his life (out of prison, and in an ethereal sense) to her.

    It's almost a Christmas song.
    joswr1ghton September 05, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentChombis, you took the word's out of my mouth...

    I was thinking that his home was making him a prisoner from his lover, but that's a more resounding explanation.

    It's probably the deepest song I've heard yet by Sam Beam.
    OpinionHeadon February 08, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI hear the lyrics as:

    There's a prison on Route 41
    A home to my father, first cousin, and son
    And I visit on every weekend
    Not with my body but with prayers that I send

    I've a reason for my absentee
    And no lack of love for my dear family
    But my savior is not Christ the Lord
    But one named Virginia whom I live my life for

    'Cause I owe mine to her
    And I'd rot in that prison for sure
    If she tossed me aside
    And not show me the way to abide

    By the creed, the law of the land
    So unlike my uncle, grandpa, and great aunt
    Whom I'd most likely see every day
    If not for the righteous pair of Virginia's legs

    There's a prison on Route 41
    Home to my mother, stepbrother, and son
    And I'd tear down that jail by myself
    If not for Virginia who made me somebody else

    And I owe all to her
    I’d rot in that prison for sure
    If she tossed me aside
    And not show me the way to abide

    By the precepts of her purity
    So unlike the habits of my whole family
    Whom I only see down on my knees
    In prayer by Virginia whom I live for to please
    losergradon May 07, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI hear the chorus as

    Cuz I owe mine to her
    And I'd rot in that prison for sure
    If she tossed me aside
    and not shown me the way to abide

    ANYway, I think Chombis nailed this one...I always heard the song as the speaker claiming his undying love for the woman who supposedly "saved him" from the life of his family, aka in prison.
    lancelot323on September 13, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI don't think the word 'prison' should be taken completely literally, just as a bad experience, or something similar, that they're caught up in and can't escape.

    maybe a family tragedy that he's blatantly ignoring with the help of Virginia?

    could be way off, but that's my loose interpretation
    ohnoodleson September 25, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think it's about a black slave... separated of his family in the times when virginia was a slave state. and you should look up the lyrics in the Iron & Wine fansite cuz these written here are not entirely correct
    manuelturcioson May 24, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think it's unnecessary to read much into this song. I think, like so many Iron & Wine songs, it's just a lovely vignette about a man who loves woman and credits her with the path of his life diverging from that of his family.

    #1 There is an historic prison on route 41 (Marquette Branch Prison) and I'm sure there are many, many other prisons along this road which stretches out 2000 miles.
    #2 Route 41 doesn't go anywhere near Virginia and didn't exist until 1926, long after slavery was abolished.
    #2 Sam Beam lived in Florida for a period of time which would have made him very familiar with historic Route 41 which runs from The Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Miami, Florida .
    coolanalyston January 27, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOne more thing, I'm pretty sure the line is "if not for the righteous path that Virginia lay," and not "if not for the righteous pair of Virginia's legs." :D
    coolanalyston January 28, 2011   Link

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