If all goes as planned, an inspirational visit and performance by Jelly Roll, aka Jason Bradley DeFord, 38, at the Genesee County Jail might motivate an inmate or two to straighten out their life and never return to jail after their release. That’s the goal of Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson.
The idea behind this event involves many people, fateful connections and a shared vision for a better community.
On Sept. 8, 2020, Swanson of Fenton Township, alongside a group of community leaders, unveiled stacks of new Chromebooks that would help Genesee County inmates further their education. The then new I.G.N.I.T.E. program aimed at reducing the recidivism rate, which is the percentage of released prisoners who relapse into criminal behavior and return to jail. I.G.N.I.T.E. stands for Inmate Growth Naturally and Intentionally Through Education.
During that 2020 unveiling of the program, Swanson said, “We all make mistakes. Every one of us has made a mistake that could cost us dearly or has cost us dearly,” Swanson said. “Every one of us has an opportunity, and based on what we do with that opportunity, brings us to where we are today.”
The I.G.N.I.T.E. program at the Genesee County Jail has grown since and the program has sparked nationwide recognition. Swanson said Genesee County’s I.G.N.I.T.E. program is the standard and is now in seven states and 22 more are onboard to utilize this program.
Swanson said the program has the data and results to say this program is a success. He said the program has proven to reduce recidivism rates and suicide attempt rates making for a better community.
The I.G.N.I.T.E. program has caught the attention of many people including the hosts of the morning show at 99.5 WYCD Detroit’s Country, Josh Holleman, Rachael Hunter and Steve Grunwald of the Josh, Rachael and Grunwald in the Morning show.
In addition to his radio job, Grunwald also is a part-time marine deputy for Genesee County. He’s also become friends with Jelly Roll. “There’s so many connections,” Swanson said.
Swanson said he met and became friends with Grunwald during the protests following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. That’s when he hired Grunwald as a marine deputy. “We had a lot of common interests,” he said.
The morning radio show had been nominated for the Country Music Awards in Nashville in November 2022, which also was attended by Jelly Roll, an up and coming mega star in country music. He won three CMT Music Awards for the song “Son of a Sinner.” Grunwald and Jelly Roll began talking.
Jelly Roll performed at Pine Knob last week. Grunwald was there.
Knowing Jelly Roll’s past and that he earned his GED at the age of 22 while in jail, there was a connection. Swanson asked Grunwald if he should record a short video asking Jelly Roll to come up to Flint to perform and visit with the inmates. Grunwald told Swanson to send over the video.
Swanson filmed a short video of himself asking Jelly Roll to come to Flint so that he could show him what the I.G.N.I.T.E. program is doing for those incarcerated.
In response, Jelly Roll cut a video of himself and sent it to Swanson. Both videos have been viewed and shared thousands of times.
Through Grunwald, they are working to bring Jelly Roll to Genesee County.
The sheriff is convinced that Jelly Roll could inspire the inmates that when they “get out, do right, they too could become a mega star in country music.”
As more information becomes available, the Times will provide an update. The sheriff’s short video inviting Jelly Roll to Flint and Jelly Roll’s video response to the sheriff can be watched with this story online at tctimes.com.