Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bye, George,CST-NWS-sneed07.article

Bye, George

November 7, 2007

"I'm ready to go," said former Gov. George Ryan, who planned to caravan with his family to the federal prison in Oxford, Wis., today.

"Look, I'm fine. It's the beginning of a journey I hadn't expected, but it isn't over," Ryan told Sneed in an exclusive interview Monday night.

"I was innocent then and I'm innocent now ... and we are still pressing ahead in our legal battle.

"But it certainly has been a 10-year nightmare."

So the man who once wept when he met South African President Nelson Mandela -- but has maintained a dry-eyed stoicism since his conviction on corruption charges -- spent his final night at home, with his wife, Lura Lynn, his extended family . . . and a piece of banana cream pie.

He also got out his favorite pan and warmed up his final meal: tortellini soup prepared by Ryan and his son-in-law a few days before.

"We are going to eat soup and talk over the good times we had as a family at the [governor's] mansion," he told Sneed Monday night.

"My conscience is clear and my family close," Ryan said. "That is what has enabled me to endure and move ahead."

Last Friday night, an excited Ryan and his entire family of 30 quietly headed to a Bulls game at the United Center.

On Sunday, he went to the Asbury Methodist Church in Kankakee, where members of his family filled up four front pews and Ryan addressed the congregation.

"I just want to thank you for all your prayers and support over the years," Ryan said. "Please keep the prayers going for Lura Lynn and myself."

On Monday, the Ryans went out for pizza.

Then -- on Tuesday, Ryan got out his suitcase.

"I'm not taking much," he said. "I can't take much. They'll send back the clothes I'm wearing. I packed medicines, my glasses. But I can't take books or newspapers. That has to be ordered or sent.

"I can't even take pictures along of my family. That has to be sent, too. But I can take my wedding ring."

Married for 51 years to his high school sweetheart courted at a Kankakee drugstore, Ryan initially didn't want wife Lura Lynn to accompany him to prison.

But he yielded to her plea. "I needed to see it. I needed to be there. I needed to know where my husband was going to be living," said Lura Lynn, who will continue to live at their home in Kankakee.

So what has fueled Ryan's stoicism?

"He has six kids and 17 grandchildren and he needs to be strong for them," said a close Ryan friend.

"But he also believes in his innocence, and that results in peace."

A former soldier, Ryan is preparing to enter prison as a boot camp, according to a close friend.

"The rest of us will continue to work on his behalf for his fight against the death penalty," said former Chicago Schools Supt. Joe Hannon, a frequent dinner mate.

"I told him I'd give him a pedometer to stay fit in order to climb the stairs in Stockholm, when he receives the Nobel Peace Prize," added Hannon, a former Marine.

(University of Illinois College of Law Professor Francis Boyle, who has nominated Ryan for the Nobel for his worldwide work speaking out against the death penalty, tells Sneed he is renominating Ryan.)

"You learn in the service, never to leave a wounded comrade on the battlefield," said Hannon. "It is so easy for us to love George. Respect, humor, love, friendship. That's what it's all about."

Former Near North insurance magnate Mickey Segal, who is serving time at Oxford prison, described prison life to Sneed during an interview this summer.

"We eat breakfast at 6:30 a.m., lunch at 10:30 a.m., then dinner at 3:30 p.m. . . . And no cocktails on the veranda," he quipped.

"There are four people in my dorm section. And we are allowed 300 minutes a month in phone calls . . . and allowed attorney calls. There is a no-tolerance policy here. . . . And if you are a problem, you get shipped to another camp.

"They run a good ship here and even have a salad bar, but everybody has a job."

Former Oxford inmate Dan Rostenkowski, former head of the powerful House Ways and Means committee, who was fully pardoned by President Clinton, has talked frequently to Ryan.

"George Ryan is going to stick his nose in books, write his biography and lose weight," said Rosty. "Prison life at Oxford is like an army camp. He'll go through orientation for a month. And they'll assign him a duty."

Duty for Ryan at home is done for now: He finally repaired his broken porch swing and tucked away his cookie sheet.

But he will take something with him. "I was very blessed when Monsignor Ignatius McDermott left a message for me two days before he died that I'd be OK.

"I take that to be a good omen."

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