Ex-governor emerges from prison into changed world (+video)
George Ryan, former governor of Illinois, has served five years for racketeering and conspiracy. While George Ryan was in prison, his wife and brother died, and Illinois enacted reforms meant to thwart political wheeling and dealing.
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"You never see people enjoying life in prison," said Laski, who recalled the first days after his release. "Suddenly, you're seeing people walk down the street, kids coming out of school. ... It's like, 'Wow, I'm back in society again.'"Skip to next paragraph
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For at least a few weeks, Ryan will have to sleep at the halfway house, though he can wear his own clothes, use a cellphone and even drive. He will have to take classes on basic life skills, including how to write a check, said Scott Fawell, Ryan's former chief of staff who also served a sentence at Terre Haute on related charges and went to the same half-way house.
"It's all baby steps and this is a pretty big step where you haven't been able to leave the premises, and haven't had freedom in years," he said. "You get a lot of things that are pretty basic to most people."
Laski, who was at the same halfway house, said Ryan will spend a lot of time complying with rules, filling out forms and getting signatures from one authority after another.
"It's boring and a waste of time," he complained, saying halfway houses are primarily designed for convicted felons with no place to go to.
Ryan will likely be allowed to leave for church services and eventually will get to move back to his spacious home in Kankakee, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago.
His departure from prison follows a rich if ignominious history in Illinois of ex-governors arriving in and departing from prison. Of the state's last seven governors, four have ended up going to prison.
Ryan's exit from prison doesn't mean there will no longer be a former Illinois governor behind bars.
Blagojevich's corruption, by comparison, were especially egregious — corruption "on steroids," said David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
"His penalty is also on steroids," he said about Blagojevich's sentence and the pointed message it sent to would-be corrupt leaders.
As a direct result of Ryan's misdeeds, a number of ethical safeguards were shored up, including independently-confirmed inspectors generals for each constitutional officer, and a crackdown on political work on state time.
Cindi Canary, the former head of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said there are signs Illinois residents' confidence in politicians is rebounding.
"Public trust really started to falter under Ryan, then it imploded and sunk under Blagojevich," she said.
Overall, the mechanism for catching corrupt Illinois politicians has improved since Ryan, Morrison said.
"Ryan and Blagojevich came of age in a culture that tolerated a fair amount of rule-bending," Morrison said. "Everyone has to know now that you can't bend the rules."