Earle, Steve - Ellis Unit One Lyrics

I was fresh out of the service
It was back in '82
I raised some Cain when I come back to town
I left to be all I could be
Come home without a clue
Now, I married Dawn and had to settle down

So I hired on at the prison
Guess I always knew I would
Just like my dad and both my uncles done
And I worked on every cell block
Now, things're goin' good
But then they transferred me to Ellis Unit One

Swing low
Swing low
Swing low and carry me home

Well, my daddy used to talk about them long nights at the walls
And how they used to strap 'em in the chair
The kids down from the college and they'd bring their beer 'n all
'N when the lights went out, a cheer rose in the air

Well, folks just got too civilized
Sparky's gatherin' dust
'Cause no one wants to touch a smokin' gun
And since they got the injection
They don't mind as much, I guess
They just put 'em down at Ellis Unit One

Swing low
Swing low
Swing low and carry me home

Well, I've seen 'em fight like lions, boys
I've seen 'em go like lambs
And I've helped to drag 'em when they could not stand
And I've heard their mamas cryin' when they heard that big door slam
And I've seen the victim's family holdin' hands

Last night I dreamed that I woke up with straps across my chest
And something cold and black pullin' through my lungs
'N even Jesus couldn't save me though I know he did his best
But he don't live on Ellis Unit One

Swing low
Swing low
Swing low and carry me home
Swing low
Don't let go
Swing low and carry me home

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Earle, Steve Ellis Unit One Comments
  1. resdog851

    He is totally channeling Bruce Springsteen from the Nebraska album in this song. If you doubt, go listen to Springsteens Nebraska song. Springsteen was singing about real life spree killer Charlie Starkweather. https://youtu.be/iir_xAbt-ak

  2. Blues Chewy

    13 people need to be swung low and carried home.

  3. the real robert e lee missouri confederate

    Poop schute boogie payne blewitt hewitt and friends momma needs a new convict to fuck her over before she dies lol

  4. Chris O'Leary

    The version from Sidetracks is not the same as the one in the film: Ellis Unit One: The solo version that appeared on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack was Tim Robbins' favorite. I preferred this one featuring The Fairfield Four — but, hey, it was Tim's movie. Dedicated to the memory of James Hill.

  5. Greg Radcliff


  6. adamb777 1

    the best lyrics ever written on a folk song

  7. LAG3

    I find this song very moving. I know where he's coming from. " even Jesus couldn't save me, though I know he did his best, but he don't live on Ellis Unit One.. "

  8. Addison Ellis

    My last name is Ellis 🤭

  9. Randall Emmons

    As previously stated Ellis Unit One near Huntsville, TX was the location of Texas's "Death Row" when the song was written. In 1999 Texas's "Death Row" was moved to the Polusky Unit near Livingston, TX. Inmates are still transported to the Texas State Penitentiary (the Walls) in Huntsville, TX for execution. The "Walls" are a couple of blocks from Sam Houston State University which is the "college" referred to in the song. Steve corresponded with several inmates during the 1990s. He actually visited one of them (Jonathan Nobles) on several occasions at Ellis Unit One. He attended Nobles's execution at Nobles's request. Nobles is the inspiration for Steve's song - Over Yonder(Jonathan's Song).

  10. Heather c

    Regardless of where death penalty in u.s. is carried out, the state's that still allow it are not just killing prisoners, but are also ruining the lives of the men that carry out the sentence, leading to severe ptsd - Obama failed us in eliminating the death penalty. I fear the current administration is no help. If you care, join ACLU or Amnesty International, both of which are free.

  11. B Adams

    An amazing album!

  12. R J K

    Have been enjoying this song 96 it's still one of his best

  13. Disabled Liberationz

    thanks as posted on our FB....Was reading Henry Friedlander...From Euthanasia to the Final Solution....and this song remind me of he process of 'disinfection' they did to the T4 disabled of varied impairments.For the record Ellis Unit One is a Death Row and the song is about one of the guards, who like his father was witness.....so DLANZ Disabled play this for those of our past who lived in such fearful places and maybe those who imagine..picture this horror.
    Quoting .""This program involved the systematic and secret execution of the aged,insane, incurably ill, or deformed children and other persons by gas, lethal injections, and diverse other means in nursing homes, hospitals, and asylums....For them, the T4 technicians established killing centers, thus creating the unprecedented institution that would symbolize Nazi Germany and the early twentieth century. The term "killing center" best describes the places where human beings were killed in a process that copied assembly line factory production....
    T4 established six killing centers -- Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Bernburg and Hadamar -- only four were operational at the same time. The killing center was usually one building; two were castles, three were hospital, one was a jail. The disabled patients usually arrived at the killing center by a Gekrat bus, but sometimes also by train. In the reception of the center, made to look like a hospital, the patients were undressed. The naked patients were then taken one at a time into the examination room, where a physician briefly examined each patient...This was not a regular medical examination. The physician only established the identity of the patient on the basis of his or her medical records, and with "relative speed," he "gained a general impression from those people." At this point, another mark was made on the naked bodies of the patients; those possessing gold teeth or gold bridges were identified with a cross on their backs or their shoulders. This mark later served to identify corpses with valuable dental work. After examination by the physician, the patients were each assigned a number, which was stamped onto their bodies or attached with adhesive tape and was about 1 1//2 inches high; then they entered
    an adjacent room to be photographed "sitting, from the front, from the side, and standing...These final pictures, identified by the stamped or attached numbers, were designed to complete the record and to show the physical inferiority of the murdered patients "for scientific reasons";they were eventually collected and cataloged at T4 headquarters in Berlin. After all examinations and other formalities were completed, the patients, still naked, were assembled so that they could be led into the gas chamber.Once all patients had entered the gas chamber, the staff closed the steel door....Usually the gas valve was opened for about ten minutes. After about five minutes, all patients were unconscious, and in about ten minutes, they were all dead. 94 The staff waited for one to two hours before ventilating the chamber....'' What happened then, as now is their memories are not forgotten.''But I will not accept that any one of us should prove our worth based on a set of “qualities” as defined by a biased and elitist majority. We all have value, even when the majority cannot see the wisdom behind our voices (spoken or not)....I am not alone either.''. Assumptions and Ableism' by Amy Sequenzia ....keep smiling
    Cap'n Log
    DLANZ Spirit of Wairore
    Ruatoki NZ

  14. James Brennan

    The CIA is the biggest terrorist organization in the world.

    David Alexander

    The boy scouts are far worse.

  15. Hubert Ashcraft

    Another classic song by Steve.

  16. Franklin Ryan

    John Bird's Blues!

  17. Vincent Herrington

    Just enjoy the song and shut up

    Lowell Denney

    Vincent Herrington ...Absolutely

    Drunk Roku

    ......says the bitch who has nothing to do with this......

  18. Steve's Mathy Stuff

    WTF are you fools talking about? Ellis Unit 1 of the Texas Department of Corrections is the location of "death row". To the best of my knowledge no terrorist has ever been housed there. It is occupied by men and women facing execution. Statistically speaking, some of them are innocent of the crime they will die for and some of them are sociopaths who would, and may have, killed their mothers. Most fall somewhere in between. Earle's song is about the dehumanizing effect of capitol punishment on those who must carry out the executions.

    vicki sloane

    +DrGerbils Not any more. Now its NOT just for deth row inmates. its got inmates doing time.

    Doug Hibbard

    @vicki sloane Ellis Unit was never just dedicated to death row. It's always been a working farm with different classes of inmates. However death row was moved to Livingston, TX over 20 years ago.

  19. Bernell Martin

    This song is from the Dead Man Walking sound track from 1995 or 1996. It don't have shit to do with terrorists, know your players history. Steve recorded this after he was released from prison. Do your homework.

    Bc Clarity Carlton-Martin



    +Bernell Martin Yup, from what I understand, Tim Robbins called him and asked him to write a song for the movie. As always, Steve delivered.

  20. Eesa Rahim

    Was Steve Earle in Treme & The Wire..?

    Steven Groom

    He was in The Wire, haven't watched Treme...

    Colin Smith

    Both, yep.


    +Steven Groom I would recommend watching Treme. It will unearth some excellent music as well as musicians.

  21. keithdetroit

    the vroys with steve earle

    Chris O'Leary

    Not the V-Roys: Ellis Unit One: The solo version that appeared on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack was Tim Robbins' favorite. I preferred this one featuring The Fairfield Four — but, hey, it was Tim's movie. Dedicated to the memory of James Hill.

  22. D'Ascoyne

    Capital punishment is not worthy a country calling itself a democracy. Shame on USA.

    Heather c

    D'Ascoyne 4years later, I see this. So heartening, thank you. I agree. Barbaric and inhumane.

  23. Meagan Rodriguez

    the song isnt about terrorists its about jon nobles

  24. gjc82071

    There is another version of this song. "Swing low, swing low" is done in harmony, with another person singing the words an octave lower than Earle. Does anybody know what album that version is on? (or ever even heard that version at all?)


    Its on Sidetracks

    Chris O'Leary

    @seismicdeathgrip Ellis Unit One: The solo version that appeared on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack was Tim Robbins' favorite. I preferred this one featuring The Fairfield Four — but, hey, it was Tim's movie. Dedicated to the memory of James Hill.

  25. John Red

    I don't think S.Earle is talking about Terrorist,it was to a soundtrack to a movie! And Terrorist is a very misuse word by ignorant folks,You Think?

  26. lcflatt21

    If you are saying that supermax prisons and punishing terrorists are laudable, I implore you, on behalf of Steve Earle and his fans, to f**k off.

  27. Forky Witherspoon

    Lol the degenerates over at DU have linked to this...as if it's supposed to change our minds about supermax prisons and punishing terrorists. Must be bizarre to live in their idiotic little world.