Merle Haggard Sounds Off on Prison Reform, Marijuana Use
Merle Haggard is one of those country stars with a colorful life. The California native spent much of his adolescent years in and out of juvenile detention centers, which led to time in and out of prison as a young adult. For most of his adult life, Haggard has stayed on the right side of the law, but he hasn't forgotten what he learned behind bars.
"[It taught me] honesty," the country icon tells Men's Journal. "In that environment, if you tell someone you're gonna do something on a Tuesday, you better do it, because you can't get away from them."
Haggard, whose record was expunged by then-California governor Ronald Reagan in 1972, learned his lessons, but he's afraid that others caught in the legal system now might not fare as well as he has.
"I believe that if you break the law and get caught, you should go to jail," he maintains. "But we're in a hard time in America now, with all the trouble with police in the cities. Prison is the biggest business in America. Bigger than marijuana! You got the money, you can build a prison out in Nevada, and it'll be filled before you finish building it. That's a fact, and that's a shame."
Speaking of marijuana, the Country Music Hall of Fame member sang, "We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee / We don't take our trips on LSD," in his iconic 1969 hit "Okie from Muskogee." But in his later years, Haggard has become a proponent for the legalization of the drug, even though he's stopped smoking it in recent years because of his health issues.
"At the time I wrote "Okie From Muskogee," I didn't smoke. It was '68. I had been brainwashed like most of America about what marijuana would and wouldn't do. I thought it was responsible for the flower children walking around with their mouths open. It was not so," Haggard says. "But if a guy doesn't learn anything in 50 years, there's something wrong with him. I've learned a lot about it, and America has, too."