Apparently, Jesus is spending a lot of time around state and federal penitentiaries lately. I have no other reason to believe this than it seems a lot of people are “finding Jesus” there. He is especially visible on death row, but there have been an increasingly voluminous number of sightings in the general prison population as well.

It is probable that there are truly genuine conversions by truly bad people to truly genuine religion. We are taught to believe that even the most hardened criminal can have his heart softened by the impact of Christian exposure. A question arises however, whether even a genuine conversion should become a factor in determining whether a perpetrator of some despicable act in his past should gain his freedom before having served his judicially issued prison sentence.

The social problems arise when politicians, parole boards and other human guarantors of freedom try to differentiate the fraudulent claimants from the genuine conversions.

The social calamities resulting from errant paroles and pardons make front page headlines in all too many cases. The most recent high profile illustration of parole and pardon gone bad is the case of Maurice Clemmons, the probable killer of four policemen in Washington state.

Even the most wobbly-kneed liberal must concede that in the case of Clemmons, the overall system failed. The real political irony is that in this instance the guarantor of Clemmons’ freedom was then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, one of the most conservative and previously thought to be “law and order” guys roaming the halls of power in the country. Of equal irony is that Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister.

According to Arkansas Democrat Gazette columnist Gene Lyons, “no matter how heinous one’s crimes, all an inmate had to do for a pardon was drop to his knees, praise Jesus, and persuade some preacher known to Huckabee of his new found holiness. Everybody knew that Huckabee made up his mind based on what God told him to do.”

All told, Huckabee commuted 163 inmate’s sentences while Arkansas governor. Again according to Lyons, “Clemmons played the “holy’ card to Huckabee who got him turned loose in 2000,” an act that put a crook with prison sentences totaling over 100 years back on the street. Clemmons had a violent crime rap sheet longer than the health care reform bill yet Huckabee bought his conversion line and of course the rest is sad and sordid history.

The unfortunate part of the “finding Jesus” dynamic in prison is that Jesus apparently stays in prison while the crook goes free. Jesus can be everywhere, but there are so many crooks being freed in his name that he simply is finding it difficult to provide the necessary guidance to keep them on the straight and narrow once they hit the streets.

Huckabee can hope his Fox News gig stays afloat because he’s probably going to need the work. If Michael Dukakis’s past political fate is any indication the electorate frowns on “do-gooder” politicians releasing convicted, unreformed and unrepentant religious frauds back into the general population which would seem to doom any future political aspirations he might have harbored.

In the meantime Sister Sarah sees this as God working in her life… her political life that is. With Huckabee down that’s one less nomination hurdle for her to overcome.

John Kliebenstein is circulation and operations manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesdays. E-mail him at john.kliebenstein@