Former Illinois U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. entered a North Carolina prison Tuesday to begin serving a 2 1/2-year term for illegally spending $750,000 in campaign money on everything from cigars to a gold watch — a day after he tried but failed to get into the federal complex.
In an odd twist to Jackson's long-running legal saga, the 48-year-old had sought to enter the Butner Correctional Center Monday but was turned away because of "a snafu," C.K. Hoffler, an Atlanta-based attorney who had accompanied the Chicago Democrat, told reporters Tuesday evening.
"He was ready to pay his debt," she said during a news conference in Atlanta about why the son of civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson chose to report days earlier than required. "The sooner he reported, the sooner he'd be able to get back home to his children to begin the process of healing."
Jackson bid farewell to his wife, Sandi, and two children on Sunday, in Washington, D.C., then went to the prison in a heavily wooded area 30 miles north of Raleigh Monday afternoon. But his attorney had to return hours later to pick up Jackson when prison officials called her and said say an administrative obstacle would delay processing him, she said.
Jackson spent the night at a hotel, then reported to the prison again — this time successfully — around 10 a.m. Tuesday, Hoffler said.
Jackson, now Inmate No. 32451-016, was in custody as of Tuesday morning, said Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke, who declined to provide additional details.
Hoffler said someone representing Jackson had let prison officials know in advance of his plan to report on Monday. "He didn't just show up," she added.
Court documents were never clear about when Jackson had to report. In her sentencing order this year, Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington said only that he would have to surrender to prison authorities "no earlier" than Nov. 1.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, also accompanied Jackson to the prison Monday, Hoffler said. Butterfield was quoted as saying in a statement, "I am happy to report that he is in good spirits, all things considered."
By quietly reporting, Jackson avoided the crush of media that swirled around other prison-bound Illinois politicians. For example, when Rod Blagojevich reported to a Colorado prison last year to serve a 14-year term for corruption, helicopters hovered above and cars filled with journalists trailed the former Illinois governor.
But Hoffler insisted Jackson wasn't seeking to avoid the media's glare.
Jackson's fellow inmates at Butner include Wall Street fraudster Bernie Madoff and ex-Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge, convicted of lying about police torture of suspects, according to the Bureau of Prisons. However, it's unclear if Jackson will have contact with them at the sprawling complex, which includes high- and low-level security sections.
The once-rising star of the Illinois Democratic Party who displayed such a fondness for luxury, will have to perform a menial job behind bars; janitorial work is typically assigned to new inmates, the Butner guide says. His life will be highly regimented, including having to wake daily at 6 a.m.
As part of the guilty plea he entered early this year, Jackson admitted to spending his donors' money on more than 3,000 personal items, including $60,857 at restaurants, nightclubs and lounges; $43,350 for a gold Rolex watch; and around $5,300 for mounted elk heads.
Jackson's wife, Sandi, was given a yearlong sentence for filing false tax returns related to the spending. In a concession to their two school-age children, the judge allowed the Jacksons to stagger their prison terms.
Jesse Jackson represented his Chicago-area constituents in the House from 1995 until he resigned last November. He stepped down following months of speculation about his health and legal problems.