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Ex-Illinois Gov. George Ryan released from halfway house

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 8:10 a.m.

CHICAGO — Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was back at his longtime home on Wednesday following his pre-dawn release from a federal prison after serving more than five years for corruption.

He first reported to a halfway house in Chicago, but, in a surprise, was allowed to go to his spacious home in Kankakee to continue serving his sentence, his attorney Jim Thompson said. Speaking from Ryan's living room, Thompson said Ryan was beaming and surrounded by his smiling grandchildren

"If you could see his and his grandkids' smiling faces," Thompson, himself a former governor, said by phone from Ryan's home. "He is surrounded by happy faces."

It wasn't immediately clear why Ryan was released from the halfway house so quickly or how long he would stay on home confinement. Ryan was sentenced to 6 12 years on Nov. 7, 2007, and his term officially ends July 4 after compiling 305 days credit for good conduct, said Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke.

Looking relaxed and thinner than before prison, Ryan walked past throngs of reporters into a Chicago halfway house earlier in the morning.

Ryan, 78, left the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. five months before his prison term officially ended, having qualified for early release to the Salvation Army-run Freedom Center.

Wearing a gray business suit and tie, Ryan smiled faintly but didn't speak to reporters as he walked into the red-bricked facility on the city's West Side just before 7 a.m.

"Today is another step in a long journey for George Ryan," Thompson told reporters after Ryan went inside.

Thompson said later that authorities decided that Ryan did not need the services the facility requires, which including explaining how ex-cons can use a checkbook, he said.

Ryan was mostly quiet during the 200-mile drive from Indiana to Chicago, said Thompson, who accompanied him on the journey. They made a detour to Michigan Avenue to take in the Christmas lights still up along the city's iconic shopping street, he said.

"He's in decent spirits. It is such a stark change from penitentiary life," Thompson said. "He has to become accustomed again to being on the outside."

Ryan, a Republican, drew nationwide attention in 2003 when he deemed Illinois' capital punishment laws flawed and emptied death row. That reignited a nationwide debate and led the state to abolish its death penalty in 2011.

Some activists working to abolish the death penalty have suggested Ryan could speak nationwide on the issue.

His release means Illinois no longer has the dubious distinction of having two former governors behind bars simultaneously. Ryan's successor, Rod Blagojevich, is now Illinois' lone imprisoned governor. The Democrat is serving a 14-year term for corruption at a federal prison in Colorado.

A jury convicted Ryan in 2006 of racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI. Jurors found that Ryan had steered state business to insiders as secretary of state and then as governor for vacations and gifts. He also was accused of stopping an investigation into secretary of state employees accepting bribes for truck driver's licenses.

Ryan's wife of 55 years died in 2011. Officials allowed him to leave prison to visit her when she was sick with cancer, but he wasn't allowed to attend her funeral. Ryan has suffered from his own health problems, including kidney disease.

For decades, the Salvation Army has run a community program where inmates live for a short time, take classes to learn basic skills and receive counseling, among other things.

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