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Ex-Illinois governor George Ryan set for halfway house after 6 years in prison

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Under normal circumstances, jailed former Illinois Gov. George Ryan would be packing his bags and preparing to go home to his house in Kankakee. But Ryan’s circumstances are hardly normal.

For the last six years, the former governor has been a federal prisoner. When he leaves the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute next week, he will be traveling not to Kankakee but to a halfway house in Chicago.

And he has nothing to pack. Someone will have to bring him the clothes he wears out of the prison gate.

"It will be the first time he’s worn his own clothes in six years," Ryan’s former chief of staff, Scott Fawell, said Monday.

Fawell provides a unique perspective. Not only was he Ryan’s closest advisor, but he also did more than four years himself for Ryan-related crimes. And he occupied that same Salvation Army halfway house on Chicago’s west side.

"It’s dingy. It’s dark. It’s dirty,” Fawell said. "It’s an old facility."

And ironically, said Fawell, it will be the place where Ryan will most likely mingle with the hardest criminals he will see during his entire stay with the Bureau of Prisons.

"You can be in the same room with guys who have done 20 or 30 years in prison, where he’s used to a little different clientele," Fawell explained.

Ryan will be required to take mandatory classes on such mundane skills as opening a bank account, writing a check, and making out a resume. It sounds ridiculous for a former governor but is par for the course in the Bureau of Prisons' one-size-fits-all approach to corrections.

"It’s for everybody," Fawell said. "Whether you’ve done 30 years or three months."

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After orientation, it will be time for the former Springfield dealmaker to go to work. Every halfway house resident is required to have a job and to work 40 hours each week.

Ryan will have to sign out when he departs in the morning and call when he arrives at his job site. He is to be back at the Salvation Army facility at Ashland and Monroe by 7 p.m. every evening.

"It’s more that they want you to go somewhere," Fawell said. "And you have to bring back a paycheck every week or two to give 25 percent of your gross to the halfway house."

Halfway house residents are constantly reminded they are not totally free. But the differences between their Chicago existence and their lives behind bars are enormous. Not only are they allowed to wear their own clothes, they can carry a wallet and money for the first time. Personal items are allowed.

Ryan will even be allowed to get a driver’s license and keep a car on site. Ryan used to issue the state’s driver’s licenses when he served as Illinois Secretary of State.

Eventually, perhaps as early as three weeks or so, Ryan will be allowed to begin transitioning to his Kankakee home. But even then, he will very much remain under Bureau of Prisons control.

"They’ll call him between 8:30 and 10:00, between 11:00 and 1:00, and between 2:00 and 4:00 in the morning," Fawell said. "Every single night."