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What has Jesse Jackson Jr. taught us? Toothbrushes all around

Along with all the formalities surrounding inauguration day for our elected officials — the swearing-in ceremonies, the photo ops and any other fanfare, there should be an obligatory gift bestowed upon newly minted politicians.

How about a commemorative toothbrush?

It would have to sit on their desks, maybe in a special cup.

Not to be used. Not to be framed. Not to be gold-plated and mounted.

It should just stay put, as a reminder.

If you’re asking why, then you’ve not yet heard what disgraced former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s been up to in federal prison.

He’s cleaning toilets.

With a toothbrush.

“He’s doing a fastidious job — a toothbrush doing wonders on a clogged drain,” writes former Pennsylvania attorney John Karoly, an inmate who spent some time with Jackson in prison.

Yup, Jackson’s reported job as a federal inmate is scrubbing toilets with a toothbrush. Jackson began his sentence last fall after pleading guilty to looting his campaign fund of $750,000.

“No matter how hard he scrubs, he later tells me that it doesn’t wipe his slate clean. He has embarrassed himself, his family name, and all those who counted on him to be different,” Karoly wrote in a letter that was sent to Chicago TV station WMAQ. “Like the rest of us, he yearns for the forgiveness that has eluded him.”

The revelation that Jackson is scouring bathrooms in prison sparked a round of empathy by some. Do inmates in federal prisons really scrub toilets with toothbrushes?

“Hell yeah,” veteran federal defense attorney Michael Ettinger says. “Someone’s gotta do it.”

However, Ettinger says there are far more severe deterrents.

What has his clients calling him in a panic is the type of place they end up.

“They got designated to a facility, it’s medium (security) but it was all sex offenders. Being with sex offenders completely freaked them out. That’s the biggest complaint I’ve heard,” he says. “They’re not comfortable; they can’t sleep at night. That kind of stuff.”

There’s also the fact that the rest of the inmates think: well if you’re here, you’re a sex offender, too, Ettinger says.

Ettinger said nothing happened to those clients but the psychological fear was enough to want them to move to a new place.

Jackson isn’t in one of those facilities. He was moved last month from a North Carolina prison camp to a minimum-security prison camp at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, which had been his first choice.

Jackson’s letter, though, sparks a sense of skepticism by the more cynical among us. That’s because along with the letter and an affidavit signed by Jackson allowing the information to become public, it’s clear that Jackson is thinking big behind bars. And he wants his big ideas known.

“In the single stroke of a pen, the President, on behalf of the American people, can convert the intangible myth of America’s forgiveness into what Jesse rightly insists is a matter of human entitlement,” Karoly wrote. “When you pay off your credit card debt in full, you no longer owe anything. The full utilization of the President’s power to forgive, may be the greatest legacy any President can leave behind.”

So even as he’s humbly scrubbing toilets, Jackson is still feeling a sense of “entitlement,” although he’s trying to suggest it’s shared by all, as part of the human condition.

Jackson took his seat in Congress promising reform after his predecessor, Mel Reynolds, went to prison after his conviction for having sex with a 16-year-old campaign worker and on bank fraud charges.

What happened to Reynolds? He was given a presidential commutation from outgoing President Bill Clinton, who in 2001 forgave the remainder of Reynolds’ sentence for bank fraud.

After Jackson resigned in 2012 amid a federal investigation into how he and his wife Sandi Jackson were dipping into his campaign money, Reynolds threw his hat in the ring. It was the second time Reynolds made such an attempt, saying he sought redemption. He was soundly defeated, and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly won the primary and clinched the general election.

So six months into his two-and-a-half-year prison sentence Jackson already is publicly pushing for a pardon. Not for just for himself but for all inmates?

Get in line, Mr. Jackson.

In Illinois, there are some marquee names ahead of you: former Gov. George Ryan, for starters. There was a point when Ryan was tasked with wiping down prison sweat from workout machines when he began his stint in federal prison. He served six and a half years behind bars and couldn’t win a pardon, even as his elderly wife was ailing. She died before Ryan was let out. Weighing in Jackson’s favor: He has shown remorse by pleading guilty and apologizing for his crimes.

There’s also former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year prison term. Convicted Ald. Ike Carothers probably wouldn’t mind a presidential pardon as well as convicted streets and sanitation commissioner Al Sanchez. Both made a run for office having to carry the weight of their felonies; neither was successful.

Jackson cites the pardon given to Richard Nixon; if Nixon can get one, shouldn’t all who served their time be given a clean slate, a second chance?

That is just the problem, of course, with Jackson’s suggestion.

Pardons would never be allowed across the board. They’re more likely reserved for the Nixons of the world.

Or the Jacksons. The Karolys? Not so much.

Until then, Mr. Jackson, keep doing wonders with that toothbrush.

And be thankful your fellow inmates aren’t keeping you up at night.