Ex-Gov. George Ryan is spending his first day of freedom at home with his family instead of among ex-cons in a Chicago halfway house.
Ryan arrived at the Salvation Army facility Wednesday morning following his release from the Indiana lockup where he served more than five years of his 6 1/2 year sentence for corruption.
Ryan’s attorney Jim Thompson, also a former Governor, says his client was released from the halfway house hours later and is now at his home in Kankakee, where he will remain in confinement. Officials decided Ryan didn’t require the services halfway houses provide. Those services include making sure ex-cons can use a checkbook.
Speaking from Ryan’s living room, Thompson said Ryan was beaming and surrounded
by his smiling grandchildren.
Ryan will still be subject to strict rules at home. He can’t leave his house and he can’t speak to the media. Thompson says Ryan was given retirement status and won’t be required to find a job.
Alex Keefe of Illinois Public Radio member station WBEZ caught up with some Illinois politicians who spent time at the Chicago halfway house, to talk about conditions they might say Ryan was lucky to avoid:
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These days, there’s only one security guard that Jim Laski has to worry about – a little white dog that doesn’t seem to like reporters.
LASKI: That’s, uh, Teddy – the white lhasa apso.
Laski is Chicago’s former City Clerk.
When I met him at his house on the Southwest Side yesterday, he answered the door in a sweatshirt, with slicked back hair.
He now lives here with his family (and his two little dogs) – after spending a year in prison for taking bribes as part of the Hired Truck scandal.
And when Laski first got out – he spent about six months at the Salvation Army Freedom Center on the Near West Side:
LASKI: …and the Salvation Army is not a five-star Hilton, all right? …
KEEFE: I wanna talk a little about what the place was actually like. … You – you’re mouthing something that you can’t say on the radio. What was –
LASKI: (laughs) No, I’m not gonna tell you what it was but … to me it was not the nicest of places.
The fall from grace can be a long one for a politician at the top of his game.
LASKI: It’s almost like being a monk in a monastery. It’s a very stoic, uh, sterile, spartan, like, room.
The first week, Laski says he was given a house job as the bathroom cleaner…
And then he had to find a real job – in his case, answering phones at an auto garage.
He WAS allowed to leave the halfway house for work, and go home on the weekends – but he was on a short leash.
Regular check-ins, calls in the middle of the night to confirm he was actually in bed, and random drug tests – like the one he got on Thanksgiving.
LASKI: It’s a very dehumanizing situation, too. On Thanksgiving, to get called during dinner, to go down to the halfway house, and your wife goes with you, ‘cause she doesn’t want you to go by yourself, and you stand there in front of somebody, peeing into a cup, to make sure you’re not on drugs.
Laski doesn’t try to hide his bitterness about the halfway house experience.
But for another politician-turned-convict, life on the outside started out a bit sweeter.
LOREN-MALTESE: Of course, I had loved gummy bears at the time, and hadn’t had cigarettes in quite a while…
This is former Cicero Town President Betty Loren-Maltese, who spent 6-and-a-half years in prison for her part in an insurance scheme.
And the first thing she did when she got out…
LOREN-MALTESE: I had gummy bears, water and smoked.
KEEFE: So this was like your moment of – your first taste of freedom, I guess.
LOREN-MALTESE: Right, and it made me sick (laughs).
Loren-Maltese still has her trademark big hair and plenty of eye makeup.
But gone are the over-sized glasses and the fake lashes.
She now rents a condo with her teenaged daughter in Glen Ellen, where Loren-Maltese works part-time, from home, with TV talk shows blaring in the background.
But when she first came back to the Chicago area, she says she stayed at the Salvation Army halfway house because she had nowhere else to go.
Loren-Maltese says the hardest part was trying to explain all of this to her young daughter.
LOREN-MALTESE: I would get to talk with her once in a while, and she would say, ‘Well, mom, can’t I come and live with you at the halfway house?’ And I would say, ‘Well no, Ashley. She said she could sleep under the bed, and you know, she just – … the worst part of it was how it affected my daughter.
Loren-Maltese says the feds took most of her possessions to pay her legal penalties – everything from her second house in Las Vegas to the paintings that hung on her walls.
So now, instead of making frequent trips to casinos, she says she’s become the kind of person who checks the price of everything at the supermarket.
LOREN-MALTESE: Well it was difficult to lose everything you’ve worked for, especially when you know you’re not guilty, and you lose everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything monetarily.
Loren-Maltese is still determined to clear her name.
As we sit at her kitchen table, she shows me her new blog.
Loren-Maltese writes about her case, she chronicles her misadventures in online dating – and she’ll even do restaurant reviews, if there’s a free meal involved.
LOREN-MALTESE: The other day we were at Buffalo Wild Wings.
KEEFE: So is this a review of Buffalo Wild Wings?
KEEFE: How was it?
LOREN-MALTESE: Well, I think the staff was wonderful. .. The coffee was really bad…
But after years in prison and months in halfway houses, bad coffee is a pretty good problem to have.
…the emotional re-entry into society could be even tougher, says Jim Laski, the former City Clerk.
LASKI: Things were going well. I mean, I was gonna run for state office, people said I could even run for mayor one day. I mean, yeah, I was at the top of my game, and then all came crashing down.
Nowadays, Laski says he spends a lot more time walking around his neighborhood, noticing the little things – people out shopping, or a passing school bus.
LASKI: I can define this in one word, from the time I got indicted, to the time I came home and everything, and that’s ‘humility.’ You learn a lot about humility. It’s a very humbling experience.
I’m Alex Keefe.
-WBEZ/Illinois Public Radio/Associated Press