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Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks (Jelly Roll in this episode) that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 27 Notes:

In the beginning there was the word, and the word was all Jason had, because everything, including his drink of choice, was taken away. But, the word, was all he needed. The emotional, and heart wrenching story of a man who realized that the only way to survive was to save himself. In doing so, he saved the rest of us too. 

Transcript of Podcast Episode:

*This is the entire podcast episode in written form. Do not read if you want the audio version to be spoiled.

In the beginning there was the word. And the word was all Jason had. He thought about that as he looked at the cage beyond his cage and the man in the middle of it. The man named Craig who was bound to that small space, unable to escape. It reminded him of all the cages he’d spent time in. More than forty of them over the years. Cages of all sorts.

And the tears came to his eyes as the past flowed back to him. He was determined to never return to those cages again. Right now, this room was windowless. Just like the windowless room he once spent six months in. The air here wasn’t much better either. It was stifling and hot. The smell was a bit better. But, not much could be worse than that other smell. It was a smell he could never forget, despite how hard he tried.

Back then, the solitude could do nothing to kill the words in his head, even if it could kill his spirit. And that’s what the cage was meant to do. Kill his spirit. It was a room of brick from floor to ceiling. He was given no contact with others. It was only Jason and the words in his head. For 23 hours a day. Every day. For six months.

He was young, but he felt old then. His first time in jail was at the age of 14. By 16 he was doing 8 for robbing someone. A big boy prison at that point. Not juvie. He’d been in and out of that for two years at this point, and the judge thought enough was enough. The judge thought this was how to punish a 16 year old boy, because he was still a boy. Not old enough  yet to go to war. Not old enough to buy cigarettes or vote. Barely old enough to drive.

But, he was old enough to do 8 years in a prison capable of handing maximum security criminals. A maximum security facility has extra measures in place to prevent the convicted from harming others. It’s where those convicted or murder, treason, or kidnapping go. 

And there was Jason. A 16 year old boy. Surely young enough for another form of reform, but he was told he wasn’t worth it. Told his life was nothing. And he believed it to. This was his life. This would always be his life. 

He would be a drug dealer. A criminal. His friends would die around him on the streets. He’d mix his drink of choice with lines of coke. Someday he’d likely die on the streets.

And a system much larger than him had failed him. After all, he was a product of the environment. An environment that the US government was determined to eradicate with its war on drugs. 

Only they lost the war. And no one speaks of that. The drugs poured in. We failed to educate. We pushed addiction groups to the basements of churches and gave them cheap coffee out of styrofoam cups because all our money was going to stopping crime and locking up people. We were lancing off the tumor, not healing the body from making the tumor in the first place. 

We let the dollars win. Corrupt capitalism, baby. Isn’t it a great thing? We put our money in reactive, not proactive measures. And people like Jason are on the other side of the scope, wondering why the gun is aimed at them. Wondering what they did to deserve this. Wondering why they didn’t get a chance at the American Dream because of substance abuse and addiction. He needed someone to save him, and no one came.

Drugs destroy families. They hook mothers like Jasons’ and twist them up so much that they walk away from their families. Like Jason’s mother did.  And, when addictions ruins their lives and drives them to the streets to commit crimes, they lock up the offenders. Brush them under the carpet before they’re legal adults. 

Put them in a place with at 23/1 schedule. 23 hours of confinement. 1 hour outside the cage. And while the system might have failed Jason, like it failed many others, it couldn’t stop Jason. 

So, Jason got out of the slammer at the age of 17, after one year, on probation. But, he found himself back in cuffs again. Dealing drugs was the only thing he knew. Dealing drugs gave him money. Dealing drugs was his profession. And his profession meant carrying a gun and doing things that were “just business…” in the business of selling drugs. 

And they could take away his freedom. They could take away his drink of choice. But, they couldn’t take away the words in his head. There were always so many words. Words filled with depression. Words of addiction. Words looking for hope. Words that found no outlet but the expression inside his head. 

And Jason was okay with that. Until everything changed. Jason was in his cell, like every other day. He nodded to the passing guard. The guard looked at him. The guard paused for a brief second. 

“Hey, you had a kid today.” He said.

The news caught him off guard. “What?” He was gripping the bars of his cell now. His palms sweating.

“Yeh, yeh…you had a child.”

“Well, what’s her name?”

“Hell if I know.” Then the guard moved on. 

Hell if I know. He was a father to a daughter he didn’t see born and he didn’t even know her name. He was 23 and determined, in that moment, to turn is life around. To make his life mean something more than drugs and violence and alcohol…even though he had no clue how and that was all he’d ever known. 

He looked for help in the places people look when all the usual ways have failed. He took up the Bible. He took up the Koran. He read them because he wanted to be saved and he couldn’t count on the system to save him. The system was trying to kill him. The system was trying to make him into a product of it’s failed drug war and it’s focus on reacting to, not preventing, the problems that plagued so many. 

Jason realized he needed to “take up his cross” if he was going to save his life. No one was going to do it for him. He would have to do it for himself. And perhaps he could use his words, the words that continually flowed out of him through all the years in prison. 

He paid for some ink with a pack of cigarettes and marked himself with that reminder to take up his cross. Jason marked himself so he’d never forget that the responsibility to survive was his and no one was going to help him. No one was in his corner. 

Everyone had abandoned him through their rules, and their policies, and their laws, which were meant to punish and not help. To hurt, not heal. A year went by and he was 24 now. He was up for probation again, and got out. When he walked out of that maximum security prison, he was determined to never end up there again. He wanted to be something other than a sinner. 

It was years after his release now, but he remembered the first time he visited this cage. It was shortly after his release. He’d seen Craig in the cage, much like he was in the cage now. He’d heard Craig’s words and he’d cried because words can change lives, and Craig’s words changed his. 

As he sat there and listened to the words of Craig, only a few feet away from him, he resolved to help others feel the way he was feeling now. To inspire others to feel something. To help them change their lives. Because words can change lives. He was living, breathing proof of that. And he would share that message with others through his words. 

Like he had just done tonight, in that cage Craig was now standing in. 

For 98 years this cage has changed the world in a different way. In ways filled with love, not fear and punishment. Through words. Through inspiration. Through music. 

And when Craig beckoned Jason to join him in the cage he shared his story. 

The story of coming there fresh out of prison, sitting in the seven row, and hearing Craig share the words in a piece he called “Almost Home.”

A piece that struck Jason to his core and lit in him the gift and motivation to change the world.  

So, Jason joined Craig and they shared those words with those gathered. They shared their music. Because music can change lives. Like it had for Jason. 

You see, Jason wrote hundreds of songs when he was in prison. The songs poured out of him. The words about his battle with depression and addiction. The words of a man coming from a broken family that never stood a chance because no one offered him a hand. The man that realized he would have to bear his own cross because no one was going to help him.

Now, the man that became a musical legend and reshaped our perspective for genres. 

And he looked at Craig and they sang the final words together:

“Man I wish you’d just left me alone

I was almost home.”

Almost home is a song about an encounter between the narrator and a homeless man, who is dreaming about better times. Jason, spent most of his life dreaming about a way out. Dreaming about better times. Dreaming about the system doing more for him than punishing him. That’s why he cried that night, many years ago, when he was fresh out of prison and his life was a mess. That’s why this song, over a decade later, meant so much to perform. 

Craig Morgan stepped away from his cage, the small wooden circle on the stage of the Grand Ole’ Opry, and returned moments later with a hand written, framed, and signed version of the song as a gift to Jason. 

And Jason Deford, better known as Jelly Roll, for the second time tonight, cried.

Because Jelly Roll had come a long way. He’d been through some shit. But, like his nickname, given to him by his mother because he was overweight as a child, he wore it all with a badge of honor. A badge in his music that made him relatable to everyone, because everyone dreams of a way out of something. 

Jelly Roll is a musician blending the genres of rap, country and rock. With the cross inked on to his right check, just below his eye, he looks more rapper than country singer. But, he’s someone more that both of those identities. He’s…someone more like a prophet in the way his words have healed and helped. In the way he visits juvenile delinquency facilities to try helping other kids escape or avoid the unfair shake the system gave him. 

Jelly Roll…

A man, who most definitely became more than just the son of a sinner, even if he still preferred his drink of choice,

Jameson Irish Whiskey, now and again. 

Anyway… I’ll drink to that.