- HALFWAY HOUSE: What awaits George Ryan?
As of 6:30 a.m., there had been no public sign of the governor outside of the prision, prompting suspicion that he might have gotten out under the news media radar -- the same way he entered prison in 2007.
Ryan was expected to arrive at the West Side "Freedom Center" facility operated by the Salvation Army around 7 a.m., which means he should have departed the federal prison camp pre-dawn. Upon arriving, the former governor is scheduled to undergo an orientation period that will take about an hour.
For more than five years, Ryan has slept behind bars. He was inmate number 16627-424- but some say Ryan was more than just a number.
"People know him, and I think he's well liked," said Rob Warden of the Center on Wrongful Convictions.
Warden worked closely with Ryan on the death penalty issue and has visited the former governor four times during his stay in Terre Haute, most recently in November.
He says Ryan has been working behind bars as a carpenter, and that other inmates even call him by the title of governor.
Warden says that Ryan is mentally upbeat and physically in improved shape.
"He's good. He's optimistic. Positive about the future. He accepts whatever's going to happen," said Warden. "He has lost weight. He actually looks better now than when he went in except for his dental problem."
A visit to the dentist will be one of the first orders of business for Ryan after he enters the halfway house in Chicago.
After orientation, Ryan will then be assigned a room in the 210-bed "Freedom Center."
"What does George Ryan have to go back to a halfway house for at 79 years old?" said former Chicago city clerk Jim Laski. "What are they gonna tell him?"
The mission of halfway house is to help inmates get their feet planted back in society with a job of some sort.
Laski, who did six months of his sentence at the "Freedom Center," found it to be a process burdened by bureaucracy.
"It's like going through high school with some goofy orientation program," said Laski. "It was really a waste of time."
Still, the ex-governor must follow Federal Bureau of Prisons directives, although his stay at the halfway house may be a matter of weeks instead of months.
Then what? Warden says Ryan still has great passion for the death penalty issue.
"He hopes that he's going to have some opportunity to speak out on the death penalty, to help abolish the death penalty in other states," said Warden. "He's not absolutely sure he's going to be in demand, but I'm confident in saying he would like to do that if people in other states extend an invitation. I'm sure he'd jump at those."
Ryan has about five months left on his sentence, which began in 2007. He was found guilty of multiple counts of corruption, which included a bribery scheme that allowed unqualified truck drivers to gain licenses.
One of those truck drivers was involved in an accident claiming the lives of six children, which was first uncovered by ABC7.
"I would hope he puts this all behind him now. There's nothing he can do to change anything. He went to prison. He was disgraced," said Laski.