(MCT) — A somber and silent George Ryan arrived at a West Side halfway house this morning after the former governor was released from a federal prison in Indiana.
Wearing a gray sports coat, white shirt and maroon tie, Ryan was surrounded by TV cameras as he walked down the street and entered the four-story red brick building at Ashland Avenue and Monroe Street shortly before 7 a.m.
Ryan smiled tightly as he refused to answer questions from reporters. Ryan's son, George Ryan Jr. and former Gov. Jim Thompson accompanied Ryan into the house.
After Ryan checked in, Thompson came back out and told reporters "today is another step in a long journey for George Ryan. . .He would like me to tell you he's grateful to leave the penitentiary. He's grateful also for the encouragement and support from many people. He has paid a severe price. The loss of his wife and brother while he was in the penitentiary, the loss of his pension, his office, his good name and 5 1/2 years of imprisonment. Now near 80 years old, that is a significant punishment. But he is going to go forward."
Ryan left the prison early this morning and managed to escape the notice of media camped at the facility. The first indication that Ryan has been released was around 6:45 a.m. when he left a building down the street and started walking toward the halfway house.
His son put his left hand on his father and guided him out the door. Ryan kept his head down, his hands in his pockets as he talked to his son and walked slowly through the knot of TV cameras.
As they neared the halfway house, a worker opened the door and tried to clear a path through the cameras. Ryan raised his head, his hands still in his pockets, his son to his right, as he walked down five steps and into the halfway house.
Thompson said Ryan didn't speak much during the van trip to Chicago.
"He didn't talk much, just small talk," Thompson said. "He looks good. He's been lifting weights. . .He knows something about carpentry now.
"He tied his own tie this morning, he hasn't forgotten that," Thompson said. "He's in decent spirits. He has to become accustomed to seeing things differently. . .We came down Michigan Avenue and he was looking at the lights left over from Christmas. That was sort of wonderful, I think. He hasn’t seen the city of Chicago in 5 1/2 years.”
Thompson said people forget that Ryan "was a very good governor." But he added that Ryan "is not bitter, he's not angry. He's accepting. This has been a long fight."
Ryan completed more than 5 years of a a 6 1/2-year prison sentence in Terre Haute, Ind. for a corruption conviction.
Ryan entered prison on Nov. 7, 2007. His wife of more than 50 years, Lura Lynn, died of cancer in June 2011.
If Ryan does well at the halfway house, he would be eligible to move to home confinement at his Kankakee residence to finish out his sentence, which ends July 4.
The halfway house, operated by the Salvation Army a few blocks east of the United Center, has been a way station for about 20,000 men and women since opening in 1975. Many corrupt Illinois politicians have finished their sentences at the facility. Among the most recent graduates was former Chicago Ald. Edward Vrdolyak.
Ryan's conviction for fraud, racketeering and other charges was the culmination of the federal Operation Safe Road investigation that exposed rampant bribery in state driver's license facilities while he was secretary of state as well as misdeeds as governor.
After a six-month trial, a federal jury convicted Ryan in 2006 of steering millions of dollars in state business to lobbyists and friends in return for vacations, gifts and other benefits to Ryan and his family.
The conviction overshadowed Ryan's long career in government.
The Kankakee native rose from speaker of the Illinois House to win statewide election as lieutenant governor, secretary of state and then one term as governor. His actions as governor included placing a moratorium on the death penalty and emptying death row, moves that won him international acclaim.
Thompson said Ryan may become involved in death penalty issues after his sentence ends in July. "It's way too soon to tell."