Rare Interview: Merle Haggard Talks About Turning 21 In Prison


Pinterest / Charles Martini


When Merle Haggard passed away in 2016, he left behind an unmatched legacy of country music. While he rightfully is remembered for his catalouge of hits, he also has a storied past, cementing his legacy as a legend who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds.



On His Own

Troubled after the death of his father, Haggard began to act up at a young age. When his mom dropped him off at a juvenille detention center at the tender young age of 11, she described him as “incorrigible.” He had already begun getting into trouble with the law by hopping freight trains as a pre-teen.

Breaking Free

After his first stint in juvie, Haggard returned home for a few years. At the age of 13, he was returned to a detention center after he was convicted of shoplifting. A year later, he and his friend Bob Teague hitchiked to Texas. By the time he was 14, he did another stint in a detention center, and then escaped to Modesto, California. There, he was arrested for truancy and petty larceny, sent to another juvenille detention center- and escaped, yet again.


Time For Change

In 1957, Haggard was found guilty of gambling charges. After a failed attempt to escape from Bakersfield jail, he was sent to San Quentin, where he plotted another escape attempt with a friend known as “Rabbit.” Other inmates convinced him not to go through with the attempt. During his stay at San Quentin, he was placed in solitary confinement after he was found drunk in his cell. While confined, he met Caryl Chessman, an author who had been sentenced to death. He also learned that Rabbit had successfully escaped, but had been caught and returned to prison. The combination of these events inspired Haggard to change his life.

All Is Forgiven


In 1972, President Ronald Reagan pardoned Haggard for his past crimes. Haggard went down in history as a respected and redeemed country music legend who turned the unfair cards he was dealt into a lifelong legacy.