George Ryan released from halfway house, on home confinement

January 30, 2013 9:01:22 AM PST
The Bureau of Prisons confirms former Ill. Gov. George Ryan was at home in Kankakee, Ill., Wednesday after released from a halfway house on Chicago's West Side.

Ryan arrived at the West Side "Freedom Center" facility operated by the Salvation Army shortly before 7 a.m. Former Gov. Jim Thompson, a friend of Ryan, confirmed that Ryan was released from the Terre Haute prison pre-dawn Wednesday morning.

"Today is another step in a long journey for Governor Ryan. He was released early this morning," Thompson said. "His stay in the halfway house will be determined by the Bureau of Prisons."

Prior to 6:45 a.m., there had been no public sign of the former governor outside of the prision, prompting suspicion that he probably got out under the news media radar -- the same way he entered prison in 2007.

"He would like me to tell you he's grateful to leave the penitentiary, grateful forthe support and encouragement from many people, the visits, phone calls, letters," said Thompson.

For nearly 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 visited the former governor four times during his stay in Terre Haute, most recently in November.

He says Ryan worked behind bars as a carpenter, and that other inmates even called him by the title of governor.

Warden said that Ryan was mentally upbeat and physically and 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 is expected to be one of the first orders of business for Ryan now that he is out of prison.

Prior to Ryan's release on home confinement, some questioned whether the former governor should have been required to stay at the halfway house.

"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 initially was told that he must follow Federal Bureau of Prisons directives. His stay at the halfway house was likely have been a matter of weeks instead of months.

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.

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