Former Gov. George Ryan was released from prison Wednesday morning after more than five years in a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. Ryan, a 78-year-old father and grandfather, reported to a halfway house in Chicago just before 7 a.m.
The former governor, convicted in 2006 of federal corruption charges, was given a strict schedule to get from the prison to the West Side facility about four hours away. He arrived wearing a suit and tie and flanked by staffers and surrounded by the media.
There was speculation that Ryan made a request to stop to visit the grave site of his late wife, Lura Lynn, who died in 2011 of lung cancer and pulmonary fibrosis and whose funeral he was not allowed to attend. His family has said it would hold off having a formal memorial for her until his release.
Jim Thompson, former governor and friend of Ryan, told reporters "today is another step in a long journey for George Ryan."
"He has paid a severe price, the loss of his wife and brother while he was in the penitentiary," Thompson said. "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."
Once at the halfway house, Ryan faces a new reality that's at the same time starkly different and very much the same as prison.
He’s expected to stay for a maximum of six months at the same Salvation Army where dozens of onetime politicos from Illinois made their transition back to freedom. They included former City Clerk James Laski and Cicero Town President Betty Loren-Maltese.
Ryan’s former chief of staff, Scott Fawell, said Monday this will be the place where Ryan will most likely mingle with the hardest criminals he will see during his entire stay with the Bureau of Prisons.
"You can be in the same room with guys who have done 20 or 30 years in prison, where he’s used to a little different clientele," Fawell explained.
Ryan will be required to take mandatory classes on such mundane skills as opening a bank account, writing a check, and making out a resume. It sounds ridiculous for a former governor but is par for the course in the Bureau of Prisons', one-size-fits-all approach to corrections.
"It’s for everybody," Fawell said. "Whether you’ve done 30 years or three months."
After orientation, it will be time for the former Springfield dealmaker to go to work. Every halfway house resident is required to have a job and to work 40 hours each week. Ryan will have to sign out when he departs in the morning and call when he arrives at his job site. He is to be back at the Salvation Army facility at Ashland and Monroe by 7 p.m. every evening.
Ryan is said to have lost weight during his time in prison and appears in good health except for some pending dental problems.