The death of Merle Haggard’s father deeply affected him. He became rebellious that his mother had to send him for a weekend to a juvenile detention center to change his attitude. He was incarcerated many times during his youth.
In 1957, he was arrested for trying to rob Bakersfield Roadhouse. He was sent to Bakersfield jail and his attempt to escape transferred him to San Quentin Prison on February 21, 1958. He was released on Parole in 1960.
Governor Ronald Reagan granted Merle haggard a full and unconditional pardon for his past crimes in 1972.
Johnny Cash: An Inspiration To The Prisoners
Johnny Cash performed in prisons and country jails in the 1950s during the height of his first period of heavy drug use. His first prison concert was at San Quentin on January 1, 1958. He did everything that the prisoners wanted to do including flipping a bird to the guards.
Among the inmates was the young Merle Haggard who described the view of the prisoners of Johnny Cash.
” When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan.”
He performed in prisons because of his belief in redemption. He believes everyone deserved a chance at redemption. He played for free at U.S. prisons for over 30 years to bring hope to the incarcerated.
The Advice from a Legend
Haggard worked hard to be a country artist after his release. He was then invited by Cash to guest on his variety show on ABC. Johnny Cash encouraged him to talk about his rough past on TV. This moment influenced Merle Haggard’s career for the better.
‘Haggard, let me tell the people you’ve been to prison. It’ll be the biggest thing that will happen to you in your life, and the tabloids will never be able to hurt you. It’s called telling the truth: If you start off telling the truth, your fans never forget it.’-Johnny Cash
” But he was right — it set a fire under me that hadn’t been there before.” –Merle Haggard
A great friendship was formed between them ever since.
Watch Merle Haggard and Johnny perform together: