Blago Takes Family to the Zoo - NBC Chicago
Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Blago Takes Family to the Zoo



    With the final 48 hours of freedom ticking away, Rod Blagojevich and his family appear to be making their most of their time together.

    The Blagojevich clan took advantage of Tuesday's warm weather and headed for The Lincoln Park Zoo.

    "We were in the ape house and people were going up to him and were like, saying hello," said Ron Mitchell.

    "He was just with his family, he was with his wife and kids. It seemed like he was trying to have a nice day," added Emily Spencer.

    The family later returned to their Ravenswood Manor home, likely to settle in for the convicted governor's second to last night before the start of his 14 year prison term. They were greeted by neighbors.

    Blagojevich rolled down the window of his Nissan Xterra as a woman by the name of "Kay" bent his ear for about 10 minutes.

    "I still believe in my governor, and I'd rather have you back then [Gov. Pat] Quinn," the woman, who  declined to give her last name, told Blagojevich. "We believe in you and you don't belong in jail."

    Triumph to Tragedy: Blago in Sound Bites

    [CHI] Triumph to Tragedy: Blagojevich in Sound Bites
    Rod Blagojevich was twice elected by the people of Illinois as their governor, but corruption brought him down.
    (Published Tuesday, March 13, 2012)

    As she continued to talk, Blagojevich looked away at times and seemed intent on trying to suppress a grin.

    "Don't lose faith," he interjected at one point, adding: "Don't give up. Don't lose faith. Never give in and never despair."

    He then turned his attention to a group of nearby schoolchildren.

    "You guys," he said, pointing their way. "School alright? Stay out of politics."

    He then shook Kay's hand and drove into his garage.

    By Thursday night, Blagojevich -- a man who once commanded an army of tens of thousands of state workers and who oversaw a $26 million campaign fund -- will become just a number.

    "They are going to be hard on him. Other inmates are going to be exceptionally hard on him," said Wendy Feldman, a prison consultant and coach, and owner of Custodial Consulting.

    Feldman spent 16 months in a federal prison camp in 2006 and 2007 and now advises convicted criminals and their families on what to expect in prison.  She said the prison staff will not give Blagojevich any special treatment. 

    "They have to get him to understand that he’s now an inmate. He’s not a governor. He’s not an ex-governor.  He’s an inmate," she said.

    Blagojevich will now have his mail opened and read before he ever sees it.  He will have to submit a list of just 30 people he will allowed to call, and those calls will be limited to a total of just 300 minutes a month.

    "As far as how they will treat him, they might do small things like not give him a chair in the TV room," said Feldman. "That sounds small.  It’s actually big when you’re in prison."

    Blagojevich's new home, the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colo., outside Denver is a forboding place despite its picturesque setting. The complex sits on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, bordered on the east by a golf course and surrounded on all sides by prairie dogs who seem oblivious to the ominous surroundings nearby.

    Englewood is one of the oldest facilities in the Federal Bureau of Prisons system.  The complex includes Denver’s federal jail and a satellite prison camp. Blagojevich will be housed in the main prison, assigned to either a two-man or four-man room.  He’ll receive a work assignment immediately. Most likely he’ll do latrine duty, which is the traditional job given to new arrivals.

    His work day will start at 6:30 a.m.  For the governor who often would not be seen in his state office for weeks at a time, that’s a stark contrast.

    "This is what I try to get all my clients to understand:  There is a reason that you’ve gotten yourself this ticket to prison," said Feldman. [Blagojevich] is going to have to learn humility, and then respect, and then he’ll need to ease in to the process, because he’s got such a long time to be there."