Rod Blagojevich gets choked up as he talks to NBCChicago's Phil Rogers at Freddy's in Colorado before the former governor entered prison. Blagojevich talks about being on the phone with his daughter and trying to stay strong.
Rod Blagojevich spends his first full day Friday in federal custody. After Friday, he will have 5,109 days left on his 14-year sentence.
"I don't have a lot of choices here," Blagojevich said, as he prepared to enter the federal penitentiary in Englewood, Colo. "For now, at this stage of the proceedings, this is where it is, and I have to do what I have to go do."
The former governor spent his final day of freedom in classic Blagojevich fashion. TV crews packed the aircraft which carried him from Chicago to Denver. And rather than drive straight to prison, Blagojevich and his lawyers took a roundabout jaunt, past the penitentiary and into Denver's south suburbs.
With just an hour before he was due to surrender, the former congressman and governor visited a restaurant called "Freddy's Steakburgers," where he gave his last interview before turning himself in.
"There is no sugar coating this," Blagojevich told NBC Chicago. "This is the hardest thing I've had to do. And I have a hole in my heart. It's an empty feeling."
The former governor said he told his children, that "life is filled with hardship, and life can hurt."
"This is an extreme circumstance," he said. "But our family is not the only family going through hard times."
Blagojevich was accompanied by his lawyers, Sheldon Sorosky and Aaron Goldstein. His wife and children did not make the trip.
"The challenge for us, and especially me as their dad," he said, "is to show them through actions, how you stay strong in the face of terrible adversity, that you believe is very wrong."
"The principal and most important purpose for me, is to do this hard thing, endure the suffering, but to persevere in a way where I can persevere for my kids. That is now my highest purpose."
Indeed, Blagojevich said he was still having a hard time even saying the word, "prison."
"I keep thinking about a place, I think of it like a military base," he said. "Like I'm reporting for military service. That's a little game I play with myself."
But with the clock ticking, it was evident that game was no longer numbing the pain of what was about to happen.
"The reality is that's a prison," he said, "which I have to walk into shortly."
Reminded by a reporter that he had once been at the top of the political landscape, Blagojevich grew philosophical.
"It's real possible to be on top of the world when you're on top of the mountain," he said. "But what are you made of, when you're in a deep dark valley?"
Interview completed, Blagojevich greeted the patrons of the restaurant, posing for photos with some, signing autographs for others. It was Blagojevich-as-fusion-political-engine one last time. But soon, it was time to go. There would be no more handshaking. No more autographs.
The former governor climbed back into the rental car for the short ride to the prison. His attorney drove through the gate, Blagojevich got out and climbed the steps of the administration building, and disappeared.
5,109 days to go.