Do you remember when the legendary country singer wasn’t the icon that he is today? He was attempting to make it into the music industry as a guitar player. He began to commit petty crimes to provide for his family. The crime that sent him away took place on Christmas Eve back in 1957. He was drunk with his friend named Mickey. He broke into a Bakersfield restaurant called Fred and Gene’s Cafe. They attempted to open the door when they discovered that the restaurant was still open.
The owner ended up chasing the pair away when they jumped into their car and sped off. A police officer caught them at the first stop sign. Merle Haggard was scared that he would go to jail so he attempted to flee. Another local deputy caught him and the two spent Christmas Day in the local town jail. Ironically, Haggard fled the jail which marked his fifth escape from jail. He went to his brother Lowel”s house, however, the police were waiting for him there.
Merle Haggard didn’t commit severe crimes but the amount that he committed and the numerous times that he escaped didn’t pose well for him. A judge sentenced him to stay at the notorious maximum security prison, San Quentin. He was sentenced to 15 years behind bars. Luckily he was scared straight and after spending over 2 years in the prison. He was also able to watch Johnny Cash perform there in 1960. He was then paroled after 2.5 years.
Merle Haggard and His Blessing
Touring required numerous background checks, which made things difficult for Merle Haggard. It was quite difficult to manage it and jump through the legal hoops. Then on March 14, 1972, Ronald Reagan, then the California governor, pardoned him for all of his past crimes. His rap sheet was officially scrubbed!
“Well, you can imagine yourself, you got this tail hanging on you, and suddenly you don’t have it anymore,” Haggard said about the pardon. “It’s just wonderful not to have to walk up and say, ‘Pardon me, before I do this I want to tell you that I’m an ex-convict.’ You have to do that with any sort of legal transaction, while leaving the country, with anything of that nature. All those things went away when Ronald Reagan was kind enough to look at my case and give me a pardon. He didn’t have to do that. He could have just snubbed his nose and went on to lunch.”
After his pardon, things began to look up even more for his touring career. But Haggard wasn’t able to meet Reagan at the time of the pardon. However, they did meet ten years later. Reagan invited him to his Sierra Grande Ranch in 1982, this was when he was President of the United States. He got the chance to personally thank him for his kindness.