George Ryan, former governor of Illinois, has served five years for racketeering and conspiracy. While George Ryan was in prison, his wife and brother died, and Illinois enacted reforms meant to thwart political wheeling and dealing.
When former Illinois Gov. George Ryan steps out of prison on Wednesday after serving five-plus years for corruption, he will return to a life altered by personal tragedy and to a state altered by his and his successor's legacy of corruption.
Ryan, who is headed to a halfway house in Chicago, will encounter an Illinois that has enacted reforms meant to thwart the kind of wheeling and dealing the Republican was accused of engaging in. The state has also changed because of Ryan's legal actions as governor: Following his lead, Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011.
His personal tragedies include the death of his wife and brother while Ryan was behind bars. Change for the 78-year-old has also included weight loss from walking the grounds at his Terre Haute, Ind., prison, said friend Rob Warden, who visited Ryan a few months ago and has corresponded with him over his years behind bars.
"When I saw him, he was upbeat," said Warden, who is also an anti-capital punishment activist. "He has reconciled himself to what happened to him." At the same time, said Warden, Ryan still maintains that the actions for which he was convicted in 2006 never crossed the line into criminality.
Jurors convicted Ryan on multiple charges, including racketeering and conspiracy. They agreed that, among other crimes, he had steered state business to insiders as secretary of state and then as governor in exchange for vacations and gifts. He began serving a 6 ½-year prison sentence in November 2007 and is being released early into a halfway house under a work-release program.
Thanks to his long-running legal saga, Ryan comes out of prison with no money, his attorneys have said. His state pension was yanked.
The most jarring change for Ryan is that his wife of 55 years, Lura Lynn, died in 2011. He was allowed to visit her in hospital but not to go to her funeral.
His own health has suffered. He's dealt with kidney disease and infected teeth.