Johnny Cash was a man who had several clashes with the law and was arrested on several occasions. Nothing strange for a man whose music talent and grandeur were almost always coupled with his not exactly conformist behavior. Not only that, but he often engaged with illicit activities, from small misdemeanors to drug possession and abuse. It was rather early in his career that he started using drugs, initially amphetamines and later, as he himself confessed, “every drug there is to try.” He struggled with drug addiction for most of his life, up until 1992 when he entered his last rehabilitation program. He was also an alcoholic and got into many troubles because of his drinking problem.
Despite his outlaw persona and his sense of closeness to people on the other side of the law (he frequently visited prisons across the USA and entertained inmates, which was immortalized on two of his most famous albums, “At Folsom Prison” and “Live at San Quentin”), Johnny Cash never actually served prison time. On the other hand, he was arrested on many occasions, usually for misdemeanors due to inebriated or intoxicated state, and he always only spent one night in jail. One of his most famous arrests was in 1965 when the narcotics squad arrested him in El Paso suspecting he was smuggling heroin. Instead they found an incredibly large amount of prescription drugs, which were obviously used for wrong purposes but were not illegal, so his sentence was suspended.
Cash was arrested the same year in Starkville, Mississippi, for trespassing to private property and picking flowers. He spent the night in jail and was released the next morning, once the police was sure he sobered up. The overnight stay in prison inspired the famous song “Starkville City Jail,” released on “Live at San Quentin.” Interestingly, Johnny Cash in 2007 received a posthumous pardon for this arrest at an event called Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Fest. Considering the levity of his “crime” and the fact that he only spent one night in prison, this pardon and this event have more of a symbolic value and represent something of a celebration of who Johnny Cash was and of his legacy.
These were not his only arrests and his only clashes with the law. Johnny Cash continued to shock the public with his “irreverent” behavior, often related to alcohol and prescription pill abuse. Still, it seems that the public has long forgave him for his deeds. What he did for American music and American culture in general has well earned him a pardon.