Six years after he was convicted of corruption and sent to prison in Indiana, former Gov. George Ryan was released from prison and installed in a halfway house in Chicago.
Wearing a suit and tie, the 78-year-old Ryan entered his new home early Wednesday surrounded by media and flanked by Salvation Army staffers. Ryan left the prison at 1 a.m. and his son drove him straight to the halfway house along with close friend and former Gov. Jim Thompson.
"He would like me to tell you that he's grateful to leave the penitentiary," Thompson told reporters.
Ryan isn't allowed to speak to reporters until after he leaves the halfway house in July. At this point, Thompson said Ryan has no job, and Ryan's lawyer said the former governor has no money. He will be required to get a job and bring in a paycheck every two weeks.
Thompson said Ryan will "go forward with his life the best he can"
"He has paid a severe price," Thompson said. "The loss of his wife and brother while he was in the penitentiary. The loss of his pension, his office, his good name. Five-and-a-half years of imprisonment, now near 80 years old, that is a significant punishment, but he's going to go forward with his life the best he can."
Thompson reminded reporters that this is the first time Ryan has been outside in years "except for two brief visits to the hospital when his wife was dying."
Ryan was described as being in decent spirits though he was quiet on the ride from prison.
"He hasn't said much. I think he came down Michigan Avenue and was looking at the lights left over from Christmas and that was sort of a wonder for him, I think."
Thompson said Ryan told him he was sad he didn't get to say goodbye to people at the prison because of his early morning release.
He said the former governor is still registering the change from prison life.
"He looks good," he said. "He's lost weight. He tells me he's been lifting weights, walking a mile a day, he works in the carpenter shop. He's an old-timer, he'll get along. He'll have a long and productive life."
When asked how Ryan feels about his conviction, Thompson said he's not bitter or angry, but rather accepting.
"I think people forget sometimes, apart from all the issues that led him to his conviction, that he was in many respects a very good governor."