THE OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE AT PRESTON
Did you know that famous Country Music star, Merle Haggard did time at Preston (PSI) for auto theft back in 1954? In fact, he escaped from the Preston School of Industry less than two months after arriving (January '54) when he and fellow ward, Raymond Branch took off from the dairy ranch on the Preston Farm grounds. The two were later apprehended in Yolo County.
Allen Smiley, Bugsy Siegel's right-hand man and eye witness to Bugsy's infamous murder, was actually once a ward at the Preston School of Industry. In fact, he was sent there in September of 1926 on burglary charges. Bet you didn't know that!
Birth Name: Francis Timothy McCown
Born: August 8, 1922
Died: April 28, 1999
Would you believe that long before Mr. Calhoun got his break from none other than fellow actor Alan Ladd, Rory Calhoun had been a ward and escapee of the notorious Preston School of Industry in Ione, California?
That's right! He had been arrested for stealing a revolver and sent up to the Youth Authority program. Not long afterwards, he escaped and robbed several jewelry stores also stealing a car...once he crossed state lines his case turned Federal. He spent 3 years in a Missouri prison and later was transferred to San Quentin until his 21st birthday.
Long before convicted serial killer Gerald Armond Gallego ended up in the State Prison system, he was once a ward at the Preston School of Industry. By the time he was sent to Preston, he already had a criminal file inches thick. Born the son of a cop killer, Gerald Armond Gallego, Sr., who happened to be the first man to die in the gas chamber in Mississippi, it seems that the apple didn't fall too far from the tree.
In fact, by the age of 6 he had already been arrested on several sex offenses as well as burglary charges. By the age of 12, he was put on probation for burglary charges and later lewd and lascivious acts with a young girl that sent him to a reform school. It wasn't until 1962, when 15 year old Gallego was arrested for armed robbery with his brother that he was finally sent up to the Preston School of Industry where he remained for about one year.
I had the wonderful privilege of speaking to a gentleman named Ed Bearden awhile back. He had come by the shop Daydreams and Nightmares for my book signing. Sadly, the Modesto Bee had erroneously quoted the date of the book signing and he was disappointed when he came by and I wasn't there, but he was excited to get my book.
Dana at Daydreams & Nightmares was kind enough to get his phone number and I called him the next day. He used to work at Preston many years ago and he spoke of stories he heard back then when he worked there. One of the stories I hadn't even heard of, so I am going to share it with you (credit belonging to Ed, the gentleman who told me). Long ago, before he was known as the Infamous "Red Light Bandit" & Death Row Inmate, Caryl Chessman was sent to Preston as a youth (which he stayed two different times). He was reportedly so bad that they would lock him up in the tower. That is where he carved his name up there, doing solitary confinement. Now of course, I am really interested in learning more about this story so I will be doing my "digging" through the archives to see what I can find about Caryl and his stay at Preston. Sounds like another great story to me. I had never heard of boys being sent up to the tower prior to this, so this is certainly worth looking into for sure.