He didn't leave with much luggage, but it took Mike Mette three years in court and a year behind bars to check out of jail Wednesday afternoon, passing up what had become his favorite jailhouse dinner of deer meat spaghetti. He was not only free, but his name was cleared by an appellate court.
Mette's family came from Chicago to meet him on his first step to freedom, his mother and father who had made monthly visits here, and his girlfriend, all of whom believed he had been railroaded by an Iowa judge.
"Something wrong happened in the courthouse in Dubuque," said Mette.
What happened in court was that Mette was convicted of assault when he was the one who had been attacked by a drunken college student.
The incident three years ago occurred in Dubuque while the Chicago policeman was visiting his brother. At 3 a.m., after an evening of drinking and partying, Mette was chased down the street by Jake Gothard, who had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit.
Gothard pushed Mette several times before Mette threw a punch. But it was Mette who went down, a five-year prison sentence, until last week when the Iowa appeals court threw out the verdict.
"Am I angry that I had to spend that time? Yeah. Bitter? I don't know. Would I rather not have spent the last year in prison? Yeah," said Mette.
Mette's cause had been taken up by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, other top Chicago officials and his police friends, but it was the feeling of hugging his mother today that touched him most.
"It was good," he said, fighting back tears.
On the way back to Chicago, Mette says he ants to drive by the courthouse where he was wrongly convicted.
"I want to see the statue of Lady Justice on top of the courthouse," said Mette. "I always thought she had no blindfold. I want to see that before we cross back over into Illinois."
"He's learned not everybody is a bad guy, and he's learned that as a police officer you have to make sure the man you're arresting is not innocent," said Bob Mette, Mike's father.
What were the last 24 hours like for Mike Mette? "Sleepless, to say the least," he said. "I just, you know, couldn't have gotten here quicker. We found out last night they were going to say they weren't going to contest it."
How does a mother hold up during this ordeal? "You take one day at a time," said Patti Mette, Mike's mother. "There wasn't anything I could do during the whole process other than loving him and writing him."
The Mette family left the prison for a friend's house about 20 minutes away in Iowa. They'll have a big steak dinner there and then return to Chicago Thursday.
Mike Mette says he would like to return to the Chicago Police Department as quickly as possible. There is a standing invitation from the superintendent for him to return to the job. He said he would like a couple of days off.