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Ex-governor emerges from prison into changed world (+video)

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His own health has suffered. He's dealt with kidney disease and infected teeth.

It's unclear how Ryan might support himself. He became a celebrity among activists devoted to abolishing the death penalty and they say he could play a role as their national spokesman, possibly going on speaking tours across the country.

Ryan switched from the pro- to anti-death penalty camp in the early 2000s, clearing death row while he was governor. Some critics questioned Ryan's motivation, saying it was a political diversion. But Warden, the executive director of the Chicago-based Center on Wrongful Convictions, and others disagree.

"He's stepping into a changed world — and it's a changed world partly because of the leadership he showed (opposing capital punishment)," said Diann Rust-Tierney, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Before he even endeavors to take on post-prison challenges or opportunities, Ryan will take in the pleasure of no longer being behind bars, said former Chicago city clerk Jim Laski, who was sentenced to two years in prison for corruption in 2006.

"You never see people enjoying life in prison," said Laski, who recalled the first days after his release. "Suddenly, you're seeing people walk down the street, kids coming out of school. ... It's like, 'Wow, I'm back in society again.'"

For at least a few weeks, Ryan will have to sleep at the halfway house, though he can wear his own clothes, use a cellphone and even drive. He will have to take classes on basic life skills, including how to write a check, said Scott Fawell, Ryan's former chief of staff who also served a sentence at Terre Haute on related charges and went to the same half-way house.

"It's all baby steps and this is a pretty big step where you haven't been able to leave the premises, and haven't had freedom in years," he said. "You get a lot of things that are pretty basic to most people."

Laski, who was at the same halfway house, said Ryan will spend a lot of time complying with rules, filling out forms and getting signatures from one authority after another.

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