Former Gov. George Ryan's life in a Chicago halfway house will no doubt be better than the federal prison he's called home for the last five years, but it won't be a walk in the park either.
"It’s halfway home," one current resident, who asked to remain anonymous, told NBC Chicago on Tuesday. "You are no longer in prison. You have some freedom you did not have the day before, and you are able to wear clothes that don’t feel demeaning to wear."
The Salvation Army’s Freedom Center at South Ashland Avenue and West Monroe Street is meant to help a prisoner transition back to normal life after spending so much time behind bars. There will be rules -- lots of them -- but our source classified those as "tests that allow you to show [guards] that you can be trusted more and more every day."
The center is an old facility that's played host to some of Chicago's best known patrons of the penal system. Dan Rostenkowski spent time there. So did Ed Vrdolyak, countless aldermen, and former Cicero town president Betty Loren-Maltese.
"I hated it," Loren-Maltese said Tuesday.
She said that while the halfway house is a departure from the barbed wire and confinement of prison, she believes the former governor will find it much more confining.
"For one thing, you're locked in constantly, unless you have written permission to leave," she explained. "So if you're not in the position where you're looking for a place to live or a job, and have a job interview, you're locked in constantly."
Ryan will be required to take mandatory classes immediately upon arrival. And within weeks he'll be forced to get a job to help pay for the cost of his confinement.
"It's for everybody. ... Whether you’ve done 30 years or three months," Ryan's former chief of staff, Scott Fawell, said last week.
Fawell also spent time in the facility on a conviction for Ryan-related crimes.
But there will be some freedoms. While sleeping arrangements are dormitory style, Ryan will have a room to himself, our source said. Meals are taken in a common area, but the former governor will be able to order in food if he so desires.
"Let’s put it this way: it’s not home yet, but it’s definitely not prison," our resident source said. "The food here is much better than prison. They don’t feed as much, because technically it’s a soup kitchen, but the quality is better."
Paul Green, an expert on state politics at Roosevelt University, believes the bitter irony of the Ryan story is that Ryan was the last Illinois lawmaker who could make things happen in Springfield. Ryan's life, he said, will be a far cry from his successor, Rod Blagojevich, who is also languishing behind bars.
"Neither one of them made any money off of this," said Green. "I mean, in Illinois politics you get in trouble not because of the money that you pocket, it's the people you help because power is more important than money."