Sweet: Jesse Jackson Jr.'s last prison lap, at home in D.C. writing memoir

SHARE Sweet: Jesse Jackson Jr.'s last prison lap, at home in D.C. writing memoir
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Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. returned to his Washington, D.C., home on Monday to serve the rest of his prison sentence under home confinement. | Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

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WASHINGTON — “I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone,” former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. said Monday after arriving at his DuPont Circle home, where he will be confined for the remainder of his prison sentence.

About 90 minutes earlier in the morning, inmate 3245106 was released from the Baltimore halfway house where he had been living since March after transferring from a minimum-security prison in Alabama.

Jackson initially entered a federal prison in North Carolina on Oct. 29, 2013, and if all goes as planned, he will be released on Sept. 20.

The last prison chapter for Jackson started when he stepped out of an SUV outside his home here. He said the ride was arranged by his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He spoke to a small group of reporters for more than 20 minutes, starting by reading from a handwritten statement and then taking questions.

“My body is slowly being released from the Bureau of Prisons,” Jackson said. “I’ve experienced and I’ve accepted the consequences of my behavior, my poor judgment and my actions. My heart has always remained with my family.”

Jackson discussed his prison life and what was ahead for him and his wife, Sandi. The joy of coming home was tempered by the knowledge that at the end of October, Sandi, the former 7th Ward Chicago alderman, starts her 12-month prison sentence.

After talking with reporters, Jackson invited me into the house. This was the most the public and journalists have seen or heard from Jackson since he vanished in June 2012, surfacing at the Mayo Clinic for treatment of depression and a bipolar disorder.

The crash for Jesse and Sandi Jackson came when federal investigators discovered they had looted $750,000 from campaign funds between 2005 and 2012 to pay for a lavish lifestyle and a greedy need for expensive things. The couple pleaded guilty in a federal courtroom here on Feb. 20, 2013.

“It’s a very difficult time for Sandi,” Jackson said outside the house.

At 50, Jackson was relaxed, trim and had some gray in his hair. Hewas wearing a tan suit, a look of enormous relief and strapped to his left ankle, a big boxy electronic monitoring device equipped with a GPS. Under the home confinement rules, Jackson must log every movement and get permission to leave the house.

OPINION

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Jackson, who resigned from Congress in November 2012, said he has to look for work — perhaps teaching history or theology. Jackson has a degree from the Chicago Theological Seminary, though he never was ordained. He said he was interested in “some kind of a ministry.”

“Anyone looking to hire a former congressman, an ex-felon, a felon? I’m open.”

What seems a priority for Jackson is completing his book. He said he has been writing a memoir while serving his time. He has not sold it to a publisher.

“I plan to use the next several months of home confinement . . . to share with the American people not only my journey, but the journey of Americans who have erred and made mistakes of judgment that led to their incarceration,” Jackson said.

“My takeaway is that people should not leave this experience bitter. They should be the better, more determined, more committed,” he said.

The Jackson children, Jesse, 11, and Jessica, 15, and their mother were away at an undisclosed location, not in Washington and not in Chicago, because Jackson said he wanted to shield them from reporters staking out his arrival.

The Jackson children have attended a private school in northwest Washington since kindergarten, a bit of a sticking point when Sandi Jackson was an alderman.

Because the kids’ life is in Washington, Sandi and Jesse Jackson decided to remain here during their prison years rather than return to their home on 72nd Street near South Shore Drive in Chicago.

They wanted to keep their children “in the environment they had grown accustomed to. It’s been very difficult for us. At the appropriate time I would like to return home and share with the people of the city of Chicago and with the country these experiences in greater detail,” Jackson said.

As for the book, Jackson said his draft filled more than 40 legal pads. Inside his house, I saw a stack of those notebooks more than a foot high on his dining room table.

Jackson’s stuff from prison was spread around the room: the piles of books he read — a lot of Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and John Adams — plus two pairs of prison boots and his Department of Justice ID.

On the dining table was a big photo of his family members picking him up from an Alabama prison to drive him the 800 miles to the Baltimore halfway house.

Rev. Jackson is in Chicago for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition & Citizenship Education Fund 44th Annual International Convention, running through Wednesday.

Jackson Jr. also showed offpaintings other inmates gave to him that reflect shame, blame and guilt.

Those are themes that are on his mind. Outside, speaking to reporters earlier, Jackson reflected on his prison experience and his book.

“I’ve experienced some things on this journey for which I will write about and dedicate the rest of my life to,” he said. “The crippling effects of poverty, and lack of education, and circular reasoning are at the heart of recidivism and the limited life options of the men and women that I met along this journey.”

“They, like me, are in some form of shame, some form of blame, someone else to complain, some more explaining, and guilt; just a trap that seemingly can never be escaped from.”

Prison changed him, he said.

“I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone; but if there’s a God above — and I believe that there is — the possibility of a new life, and the possibility of being able to look circumspectly and reflectively on one’s life, the experience provides that,” he said. “There’s a silence. There are no cellphones. There’s no constant scheduling and people calling and moving from Point A to Point B, and there’s nowhere to go. There’s routine.”

The former Democratic lawmaker said he must remain home for at least eight days to allow testing of the monitoring equipment that will track his movements.

Jackson said he will share his prison experience with wife Sandi to help prepare her for what is ahead.

Said Jackson, “I’m hopeful that over the course of the next year or so I am able to provide some comfort to my wife.”

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