Blagojevich Likely to Face Menial Work in Prison
An eight-digit number affixed to his prison clothes. A job scrubbing toilets or mopping floors at 12 cents an hour. His incessant jogging confined to a prison yard. Most painful of all, restricted visits from his wife and two daughters.
After sentencing for his conviction on federal corruption charges, that is likely to be the new life for impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is more accustomed to fancy suits, a doting staff and a comfortable home in a leafy Chicago neighborhood.
Most legal experts estimate that Blagojevich, 54, will get close to a 10-year sentence, though technically he faces up to 300 years after he was convicted Monday of 17 of 20 counts at his retrial. The convictions include attempted extortion for trying to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat that Barack Obama vacated to become president.
One fellow Illinois politician who served time in federal prison on corruption charges, former Chicago city clerk Jim Laski, says Blagojevich can't begin to fathom how hard prison will be.
"I missed my kids' birthdays, graduations ... you don't ever see children playing, there's a sense of total isolation, you're subject to body-cavity searches - it's horrible!" said the 57-year-old Laski, a father of three. "And I was only in two years."
Once he walks through the prison doors, no one will care that Blagojevich was once governor or appeared in 2010 on the reality television show "Celebrity Apprentice," Laski and others said.
"If he thinks he'll come in and get special treatment, he's in for a rude surprise," said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago. "If you come in with that attitude, prison guards and other inmates will go out of their way to break you."
But a chilly reception may not deter Blagojevich's non-stop campaigning. "I still see him going around acting jovial, shaking hands," Turner said. "I bet he knows everybody's name in a month."
No sentencing date has been set yet for Blagojevich, though it should happen by year's end. A decision on what prison Blagojevich will go to won't be made until weeks after a sentence is imposed, but it could very well be the same facility in Terre Haute, Ind., that houses another former Illinois governor, George Ryan. Lawyers will likely appeal Blagojevich's convictions, but appeals on federal convictions rarely prevail.
What may weigh most on Blagojevich's mind is the welfare of his daughters - Amy, 14, and Annie, 8. If he does spend a decade or more imprisoned, he could miss many landmarks of their lives, including their high school and college graduations.
"There's always a sense of precariousness because a child whose parent has gone wonders, 'What else in my life can be taken away?'" said Mindy Clark, spokeswoman for Oregon-based Children's Justice Alliance, which helps families of imprisoned relatives.
Laski said his kids faced teasing at school. "One kid came up to my boys when I was in prison and said, 'At least my dad is home for Christmas - and your dad is in jail,'" he said.
While Blagojevich would go to a prison with minimal security, possibly with just a simple fence around it, his routine will be highly regimented, including limits on family visits and phone calls.
A guidebook for another federal prison in Oxford, Wis., where Blagojevich could also go, says inmates get 300 minutes a month on the phone, or about 10 minutes a day. Cell phones are strictly prohibited. Prisoners, all of whom share rooms, wake at 6:00 a.m. and are subject to head counts half a dozen times a day.
Blagojevich, an avid jogger who has posted impressive times in several marathons, will also have to settle for running in circles on a prison track or around a yard.
There's some good news in the guidebook for Blagojevich, famously fastidious about keeping every strand of his generous locks in place: He won't have to shave off his trademark hair, though fully maintaining it out of reach of his usual stylist may pose challenges.
"Your hair may be worn in any style and length you wish," the guidebook says.
Inmates also must work an 8-hour-a-day job, starting at 12 cents an hour; most new prisoners start in custodial work, explained Chris Burke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Blagojevich's predecessor, Ryan, a Republican, is serving 6 1/2 years in prison on multiple corruption charges and is expected to be freed in 2013. That means Blagojevich, a Democrat, and Ryan could be serving time simultaneously.
Blagojevich's imprisonment could pose financial hardships for his family. During his trial and retrial, he already complained of being broke, and in prison he won't be able to contribute any meaningful revenue to his family, according to prison rules. Earning money from writing books or articles is forbidden.
Dick Mell, an influential alderman in Chicago and his wife Patti's father, could be expected to lend his daughter and grandchildren a helping hand. Patti Blagojevich's sister, Deb Mell, is a state legislator.
Another concern is that someone like Blagojevich could be targeted by other inmates who might think his celebrity means he has access to money, Turner said. "They need to find him a place where no one will try to do anything to him," the former prosecutor said.
Blagojevich hasn't spoken at any length about prison. When asked in an interview before his retrial about whether he dwelled on the prospect of being locked up for years, he answered: "No. I don't let myself go there."
Laski said he ran into Blagojevich in a federal court restroom before his retrial ended and tried to convey how crushing the prison experience is. Blagojevich, he said, looked shocked.
"I told him the worst day in my life, bar none, was the day I said goodbye to my children and headed off to prison," he said. "I said, 'Rod, you better pray you don't have to go through that.'"
(AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)