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Ryan's new home isn't the Ritz
Associated Press

The Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wis., where a former Illinois governor is going today.



This is the main gate where Ryan will pass through. .


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Published: 11/7/2007 7:44 AM | Updated: 11/7/2007 8:01 AM

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George Ryan's new home ain't the Ritz.

The federal prison camp at Oxford, Wis., where the 73-year-old former governor is due to check in Wednesday starts its workday at 7:30 a.m.

Inmates wash windows, mop floors, clean toilets and mow the lawn.

They may keep their wedding rings if they have no stones in them and an extra pair of eyeglasses -- but not much else. Inmates wear prison garb and the street clothes they arrive in are mailed to the folks back home.

Dinner is at 3:30 p.m. daily and prisoners who don't have a few dollars stashed away for the vending machines go hungry until breakfast.

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"It's kind of a regimented life," former Gov. James R. Thompson told reporters Tuesday after Ryan struck out in his last chance to get bail and postpone the start of his 6½-year corruption sentence.

Ryan and co-defendant Larry Warner had been free on bail since they were convicted in April 2006 in the state's biggest political corruption trial in decades -- the climax of a nine-year federal investigation.

The 7th U.S. Court of Appeals had turned down their request for a new trial in a split decision and refused to allow them to remain free on bail any longer while appealing their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

They had been hoping that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens would set new bail. But Thompson said he thought the goal was a long shot.

Around noon Washington time Tuesday, minutes after the Supreme Court adjourned, an official told reporters Stevens had turned down the request.

Ryan began preparing for his trip to Oxford.

Thompson said that he would go along on the trip to prison, something he has never done for a client before, "because George asked me to."

"In addition to being my client, George Ryan has been my friend for over 39 years, and I don't run from my friends when they're in trouble," Thompson said glumly. "We are talking about a man who is both a friend and client. We're talking about a family who are friends."

"This is a hard thing," Thompson said.

Thompson said he found a book about how to prepare for federal prison and gave a copy to Ryan to read.

Ryan does not expect special privileges due to his age, Thompson said.

"There's no reason why he can't clean the toilets, sweep the floors or do whatever else they do at Oxford," Thompson said.

While Ryan serves time, his lawyers will continue to fight to get the Supreme Court to consider his appeal, Thompson said.

The minimum security camp at Oxford -- a medium security prison is nearby -- has four wings with 13 rooms each that house four inmates apiece.

There is space for 206 inmates at the camp where a number of Chicago criminals, mobsters and other big names have sought to serve time.

Ryan almost failed to get in. He was initially told to report to a camp near Duluth, Minn., but got his assignment switched with a week to go.

Ryan spent most of his last full day of freedom at home with his family. They left the house for lunch around noon and returned later as reporters kept up a vigil outside.

Kankakee business owner Heidi Berens, 39, told reporters she had "mixed emotions" about the community's best-known resident going to prison.

"It's high time he owns up to the crooked things he's done, but I look at his face and I see an elderly man, a grandfather-type person and I think it's sad," Berens said.

Ryan was convicted of steering big-money state contracts and leases to Warner and other politically connected friends, using state workers and money to run his campaigns and burying an investigation of bribes paid in exchange for truck drivers licenses when he was secretary of state.

Prosecutors traced $170,000 of the bribe money to his campaign fund.

The conviction came after chaotic jury deliberations. Trial Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer dismissed two jurors after eight days of deliberations after it was found they had omitted mention of their police records on a questionnaire.

One of the jurors was found to have brought an unauthorized legal document into the jury room in defiance of Pallmeyer's instructions.

Ryan's appeal was based largely on the turmoil surrounding the jury, although there were other issues. The appeals court turned him down in a 2-1 split decision Aug. 21 but the dissenter, Judge Michael S. Kanne, said in a strongly worded opinion the trial had been "riddled with errors."

The appeals court, in a 6-3 split decision, refused to reconsider the case. But this time Kanne was joined by Judges Richard A. Posner and Ann Clair Williams. Their opinion suggested the trial was "a travesty."

But the majority on the appeals court found any errors that crept into the trial were essentially harmless. They affirmed the convictions.

The scandal that wrecked Ryan's career and sent him to prison began on a day that should have been a happy one for him -- Election Day, 1994, when Illinois voters gave him a second term as secretary of state.

But it was also the day of a Wisconsin expressway tragedy in which six children in one family died when a part dropped off of a semi-trailer truck and set their van afire. The parents, the Rev. Scott Willis and his wife, Janet, hired Chicago attorney Joseph A. Power Jr., who got the federal government to launch an investigation of why the tragedy occurred.

Scores of state officials, truckers, lobbyists and others were sent to prison in the nine-year investigation that began by focusing on bribes paid for drivers licenses and later expanded into other state corruption.

Ryan was elected governor in November 1998, only weeks after news of the investigation surfaced. While he was able to eke out a victory over Democrat Glenn Poshard in that race, his standing in the polls went into a steady downward spiral with each new step in the burgeoning scandal.

In the end, Ryan announced that he would not seek a second term.