It didn’t take Jerome White long to start putting his life back together. On Nov. 4, four days after his release from prison, he got engaged.
White hid a ring in a slice of cake and gave it to his girlfriend, a childhood friend who stood by him during his years behind bars.
“There’s no non-corny way to propose, if you ask me,” he said.
Since then, White’s life has continued to change at a breakneck pace. The former high school football player with an infectious laugh has moved in with his fiancée in New Orleans' Central City, reconnected with his four children from a previous marriage and found work in an unusual occupation for a recent parolee — comedy.
White, 33, spent four years in prison for vehicular homicide while he was drunk. The recent changes to Louisiana’s criminal justice laws brought him an extra six months of freedom, including Thanksgiving and Christmas.
His release just hours after midnight on Nov. 1 was jarring, White said. When he first returned to New Orleans, he found himself flashing back to the ever-present fear of prison life.
“In prison, you can’t let nothing go,” he said. “It took a second to get out of that.”
White said his mother, his wife and his children offered him comfort. The youngest of his kids had barely been born when he went off to prison, so he essentially had to introduce himself to her.
“I don’t want to disappoint that little girl. I don’t want someone to ever tell her, ‘Your dad went back to jail,’ ” White said.
White has another motivator: media coverage of the fraction of Nov. 1 parolees who have committed new crimes. He is quick to express remorse for his decision to drive drunk and thinks the court system treated him fairly. Yet he wants the public to have a better appreciation for the challenges the new parolees face.
“They love to mention that, ‘Oh, he got released with the Nov. 1 thing,’ ” White said. "Some of us are actually trying our asses off.”
With the permission of his parole agent, who was skeptical at first, White’s comedy gigs have taken him to Atlanta and Houston. He hopes to audition for "Saturday Night Live." The money isn’t great, he said, but he pays his monthly parole fee on time. Plus, he’s always worn thrift store clothes anyway.
Few things are off limits when White takes the stage for a set. Still, he said, he does not bring up prison or what put him there.
“None of that to me is funny,” he said. “I don’t want them to feel like I’m poking fun at what I did.”
He goes by the stage name “Jfunny.”
Pointing to the book of Genesis, White said the new name is a symbol of the transformation he began in prison.
“It was my moment of (going from) Abram to Abraham,” he said. “You don’t go through that and come back the same.”