KANKAKEE, Ill. (WLS) --Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan no longer has to ask permission to travel or report to parole officer. After five years in prison and one and a half years on home confinement, Ryan is free.
His parole on corruption charges ended Wednesday, and on his first day of freedom, he spoke with ABC7 Eyewitness News at his Kankakee home.
"I decided I wasn't going to let this thing get me down. You've got to play the hand you're dealt. And that's what I tried to do," he said.
Ryan served five years in prison for corruption charges. He was released at 2 a.m., which came as a surprise even to him.
"As a matter of fact, Ben, I'll tell you a story about that. I felt like I escaped the night I left there," Ryan said.
Ryan, almost 80 years old at the time, was essentially smuggled out of federal prison on his release date to avoid the prying eyes of the media.
"They came and got me and made me lay down on the floor of the backseat of the car, in the rain," he said. "(We) are heading down the road with my grandson and I said, 'I feel like we just escaped. Are you sure we're supposed to be doing this?'"
During the five years in prison, Ryan worked in the carpentry shop, running a computer that manufactured signs.
"Well, some of the hardcore guards that were there didn't like my stance on the death penalty. Those guys are all pretty much all pro-death penalty and they kind of gave me a bad time," he said.
There were no fences or bars at that prison, where Ryan slept in a bunk bed; eight people to a room.
"I met some pretty bright guys in prison and I met a lot of dumb guys in prison and I met a lot of guys that need a lot of help that they're not getting - and that was probably the most discouraging part of it all," Ryan said.
In 2006, Ryan was convicted of running an office that sold licenses for bribes that benefited his campaign fund. One of the licenses went to a trucker involved in a crash that killed six children.
Ryan denies blame for the accident should rest with him, but he says he prays daily for the family who lost so much.
While he was in custody, Ryan lost his wife, Lura Lynn, to cancer. Despite it all, he says he remains upbeat.
"I think my spirits were always pretty good, frankly," he said.
Lawmakers stripped Ryan of his pension, and he said, despite his age, he needs to work.
He tries drum up business for his son's Bourbonnais insurance agency and said he's writing a book about his 40 years in politics- some of it funny, some of it serious.