George Ryan released from halfway house, on home confinement

Former Illinois governor George Ryan arrives at the "Freedom Center" halfway house in Chicago, Wednesday, January 30, 2013.

January 31, 2013 8:50:11 AM PST
Former Illinois Governor George Ryan is at his home in Kankakee after spending just a brief time Wednesday morning at a halfway house.

Ryan, who entered prison in 2007, will serve the remaining five months of his sentence at home.

Five years older and a number of pounds lighter, the former governor made a two-minute walk through a parking lot Wednesday morning on his way into what would be a very brief stop at the Freedom Center halfway house.

The questions were many: How do you feel? What's next? How was the long drive from prison in Terre Haute? George Ryan did not open his mouth save for a couple of words spoken to his son Homer.

Ryan apparently didn't say much on the trip from Indiana, which detoured slightly to another governor's house for a change of clothes, then a trip down Michigan Avenue.

"Obviously, it's such a stark change from penitentiary life that he's got to become accustomed again to seeing things outside, but that will go quickly," said Jim Thompson, former Illinois governor and Ryan's attorney.

Ryan was in the halfway house only briefly. The Federal Bureau of Prisons had decided that he should be placed on direct home confinement. So, to his Kankakee home he went, where he was immediately surrounded by his children and grandchildren. He will live with his 18-year-old grandson.

Ryan is approaching 79 years old. The Bureau of Prisons considers him on a retired status -- meaning he likely won't have to look for a job ? but, until his sentence is up July 4, he has got to stay in the house.

"He's confined to the inside of the house unless he has specific written permission from the BOP to leave," Thompson said, "and they're not gonna give him permission unless it's for something like a doctor."

Ryan wishes to eventually advocate for an end to capital punishment on a national level.

"That's what he wants to do with his time, at least in terms of policy. In terms of his personal life, I think he wants to spend time with his children and grandchildren, like anybody who's just about 80 would want to do," said Andrea Lyon, a DePaul University College of Law professor.

The Bureau of Prisons says it does an individual assessment on all inmates that leave and go to halfway houses, and they make that determination based on what they think is best for the system and best for the individual. In this particular case, it was argued that it would be a waste of time and everyone's taxpayer dollars because he'd be learning skills that he already knows, like how to find a job.

Looking Back at Ryan's Journey

Ryan became the target of a federal corruption investigation back in 1998, which led to his conviction in 2006.

In 1994, when George Ryan was Illinois Secretary of State, a Truck driver without the proper license and experience killed six children in a crash. Four years later, Ryan was running for governor when ABC7 Chicago revealed that the driver of the truck had obtained the license through a license for bribes scandal connected to the secretary of state's office.

In 2003, Governor Ryan, who did not run for a second term, was charged with 18 counts of corruption and taking payoffs to allow illegal truck driver licensing.

He was convicted in 2006 and has since appealed the case with former Governor Thomas, who was his attorney.

"Our obligation, the obligation of any lawyer, is to defend to the best of your ability. He was convicted by a jury, and you know, we made substantial legal arguments on why he should not have been and why he should have, at least, been entitled to a mistrial when the juror misconduct was first disclosed, but those are legal arguments, they're for the court, and they've been answered by court of appeals. When the Supreme Court says no to us for a final time, that's the end," Thompson said.

While in a federal prison for five and a half years in Terre Haute, Ind., Ryan's wife, Lura Lynn Ryan, and brother both passed away.

Ryan is nearly 80 years old, now penniless and without a pension. The former governor's future remains unclear.

"He's an old timer, he'll get along. He's led a long productive life. People forget sometimes, apart from all the issues that led him to his conviction, he was in many respects a very good governor," said Thompson.