Jelly Roll is sharing more details about his criminal past. The “Son of a Sinner” singer has previously spoken about his life in and out of jail, but he is now opening up for the first time about one of his biggest crimes, one with permanent consequences.
“I spent most of my [life], from 14 to 25, in jail. I spent a ton of time. At 16 I was charged as an adult for a charge,” Jelly Roll recalls on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. “This will be the first time I actually talked about the charge. I’ll just say it was a heinous crime, admittedly. It was horrible. We robbed a couple of guys for some weed, but they called the police because we took some money and stuff. It was an armed robbery. We went in there with a gun.”
Jelly Roll has spoken often about his troubled childhood, and his own mental health struggles that went untreated, which led to his former life of crime. While he still deeply regrets his choices, Jelly Roll does acknowledge that he was a child when he was making his series of poor choices.
“I regret it every day of my life,” Jelly Roll says. “I was a kid. I’m not making an excuse. But I would like to paint the picture. … I’m a 15-year-old kid when it happened. I still feel horrible about it. But because the state of Tennessee has a zero-forgiveness policy for violent offenders, I’ve carried that unexpungable felony for 20-something years. It prohibits me from getting houses. Life insurance [and] homeowner insurance is higher, if I can get it at all. I can’t get life insurance at all, just because most of them won’t give you a decent policy as a felon.”
Jelly Roll says he also can’t volunteer at the YMCA, where he could help other kids in crisis. He and his wife, Bunnie, also got turned down for their dream house, on a golf course, because felons are prohibited in the community.
Disappointed but far from bitter, Jelly Roll is dedicating his life to helping other juvenile delinquents. It’s why he donated all of the proceeds from his sold-out Bridgestone Arena show last year to building a recording studio inside the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center, and why he plans to open halfway houses and transitional centers.
“I’m going to do so much for at-risk youth in Nashville, because my life changed in that,” Jelly Roll says. “I look back at it, and I talk about it so much that sometimes I desensitize myself to how traumatic it really was. I spent my 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th birthday incarcerated, straight. My daughter will inevitably, by the grace of God, get a car for her 16th birthday. … They didn’t even give me an extra piece of cake for dinner. I didn’t have a guard tell me happy 15th or 16th birthday. You don’t get a family visit. I missed high school completely. I was in high school, I think we actually pulled the records, like six weeks.”
Jelly Roll, whose real name is Jason DeFord, would still likely be in and out of jail if not for the arrival of his daughter, Bailee, who changed, quite literally, everything for me.
“The only thing that turned that sh– around for me, was Bailee,” Jelly Roll acknowledges. “I was in the revolving door of the judicial system, in and out. I knew I’d gotten a woman pregnant. I’m back in jail; she’s pregnant. She hates me. We’re not talking; I’m a bad human. She’s right. I was a horrible human. I was sitting in there, and that guard knocks on my door, May 22nd, 2008. ‘DeFord.. you have a kid today.'”
“It was like a Damascus Road experience in the Bible,” he recalls. “I immediately was like, ‘I’ve got to do something to change. I’ve got to quit this sh–. I’ve got to figure it out.'”
Jelly Roll signed up to get his GED after finding out he was a father. He will release his Whitsitt Chapel album on June 2, and embark on his Backroad Baptism Tour in July, joined by a rotating list of opening acts, including Ashley McBryde, Chase Rice, Struggle Jennings, Caitlynne Curtis, Elle King, Merkules, Three 6 Mafia, Yelawolf and Josh Adam Meyers. Whitsitt Chapel is available for pre-order here. Find all of Jelly Roll’s music and upcoming shows at JellyRoll615.com.