WASHINGTON — Publishing a memoir. Taking on a ministry. Working for a mental health or civil rights organization.
Those are all possible next chapters for former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., who will be released from a federal prison in Alabama on Thursday to serve the remainder of his sentence — it ends on Sept. 20 — either in a halfway house or confinement to his DuPont Circle home here.
UPDATE: Jesse Jackson Jr. leaves prison for D.C. halfway house
“He is strong and clear and anxious to reunite with his family and his community,” his father, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, told me. Jackson said when we talked Wednesday he was arriving in Montgomery on that afternoon.
The close family of Jackson Jr. plans to be there when he walks out of the minimum security Montgomery Federal Prison Camp, though not as a free man.
That includes his wife, Sandi, the former 7th Ward Chicago alderman. She still has to serve a year in prison for her role in the criminal conspiracy that ended their political careers in utter disgrace.
The downfall of Jesse and Sandi Jackson is a story of massive greed, fueled by their rampant materialism fed by looting $750,000 from campaign funds and filing phony reports with the Federal Election Commission to cover it up.
When they were caught, they both quickly cooperated with federal prosecutors.
The couple pleaded guilty in a federal courtroom here on Feb. 20, 2013. They were sentenced on Aug. 14, and on Oct. 29, 2013, Jackson Jr. started serving his 30-month sentence. The judge told him to pay the federal government $750,000, which he did last year.
Jackson Jr. turned 50 on March 11, a milestone birthday coming as he is close to getting his life back, or at least sort of. It will be his turn to care for their two children when Sandi Jackson goes to prison, likely 30 days after his sentence is over.
You may recall that Jackson Jr. vanished for a stretch in 2012 — surfacing at Mayo Clinic for treatment of depression and a bipolar disorder.
Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., who has been very public about his mental illness battles, was visiting with Jackson Jr. in prison on Monday when the former lawmaker told him about this Thursday release.
After leaving Congress, Kennedy — the son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and JFK’s nephew — founded the Kennedy Forum, a think tank dealing with mental health policy and issues. He also co-founded One Mind, an organization dealing with brain-related illness and injury.
Kennedy told me Wednesday that when he visited Jackson Jr. at Mayo, he was already worried about a criminal probe and extremely stressed because “he knew he had a storm of troubles” ahead. But “he’s had a chance to catch his breath, he’s had a chance to move on” while in prison.
“I believe there is a lot of opportunity for him to continue to be the vocal advocate for social justice that he has always been,” Kennedy said.
One logical place for that is at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the civil rights organization founded by Jackson’s father.
Kennedy said when they talked on Monday, “He was asking about my work in mental health. He said, ‘I want to be helpful to you. . . . Anything I can do to help you in your efforts, count me in.’ ”
Jackson Jr. “has kind of a double stigma,” Kennedy said. “He’s got the mental illness stigma and he’s got the convicted felon stigma. These are pretty big stigmas. But he has a lineage and a legacy of fighting to overcome stigmas and I think he can repurpose that in a very powerful way to take on these kinds of new challenges.”
Edmond Ross, a Bureau of Prison spokesman, said prisoners released back to their communities are expected to look for a job.
Jackson Jr. has a degree from the Chicago Theological Seminary, though he never was ordained.
As far as employment goes, Kennedy said, “He’s got a very powerful faith and I think that he’s got friends and I think that one thing leads to another and if he takes his enormous talents and abilities and smarts and applied them to good purpose, then there will be many people who will be attracted to that.”
Kennedy said Jackson Jr. told him he’s been doing a lot of writing in prison. I asked him if he wrote a book.
Said Kennedy, “Ultimately, he is going to have some kind of a memoir, and I think he’s got a lot of personal things to talk about.”