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The Terre Haute Redemption

As we get closer to the end of the saga of Rod Blagojevich, with a jury about to decide the former governor's fate for a second time, I wonder what he will be like in prison, where he is almost certainly going. The media image of Blago is that of a clown - almost likable, if you like clowns. How will that play out behind bars?

I recall when Blago appeared on Celebrity Apprentice last year. What an amusing comment on Illinois' political elite. The first episode required his teammates and him to open and operate a restaurant. Blago greeted every customer with "Hi, I am Rod Blagojevich. I am innocent."

Did he honestly believe that the hurried New York City clientele knew or cared who he was? In his charming innocent way, did he think any of the Big Apple's citizens would end up in his jury pool?

Blagojevich went on to get fired by Donald Trump for not only lacking leadership skills but also the ability to perform simple tasks like e-mailing and texting.

Back here in Illinois, our very own court jester finally got what he wanted. Last week he began to replay his life story by testifying at his own trial. This is something most defense attorneys recommend to their clients not to do.

Unwittingly, their client may say something incriminating. That's not what our Sir Rod the entertainer thinks. He must think that if he cries a little, and makes a joke now and then, he can win the heart and mind of at least one (holdout) juror.

It plays out like a cheesy soap opera. To the hard-core cynics of Illinois, Blago's technique might be new, but at its core it's the same old story. There is no need for me to repeat the litany of corruption trials we have seen in our lifetimes. Most of us find the former governor's antics humorous, but not innocent.

So what happens if this time he is found guilty of all charges, or at least guilty of a few more than last time? More than likely, he will be sentenced to prison.

And what if Blagojevich gets sent to the same federal prison in Terre Haute in which George Ryan, his predecessor, is serving his sentence for a conviction of corruption?

I imagine it would be the Illinois (or Indiana) version of The Shawshank Redemption. Two men very similar, yet very different, befriending each other. Ryan would be Red, the seasoned veteran; older, experienced and coping in his purgatory. Blagojevich would be the younger, prettier Andy; frustrated, unsettled, looking for ways to cope.

As the convicted Blagojevich arrives at the federal prison in Terre Haute, the pent-up and hostile murderers, drug dealers and con men jeer and sneer him and the other fresh meat. Like Red, Ryan, who loved the casinos on the outside, would bet cigarettes and money with the other inmates on how long before the new kid with the Justin Bieber haircut would last before he cries.

Unsympathetic, Ryan gives him until his first meal. Ryan loses the bet. Blagojevich makes it through the first night without even a whimper. In a scornful baritone, Ryan remarks, "I'll have to admit, I didn't think much of Rod the first time I saw him, but his first night in the joint, Rod Blagojevich cost me two packs of cigarettes. He never made a sound."

There would be a slight difference from the movie. Andy stayed to himself for a while. Not Rod. He'd attempt to fit in right away, talking to anyone and everyone. They'd simply scowl and walk away. The lack of social contact would wear on Blagojevich; finally he'd approach his senior political associate for a favor.

"I understand you are a man who know's how to get things?" he'd say. Ryan, as he did on the outside, has all the right connections for contraband; in this case, cigarettes, cigars, booze and porn. He Ryan might even have a way to place a bet on some sporting event. Just like Red in the movie, he'll reply to Blago, "I've been known to locate things from time to time."

In the movie, Red finds Andy a rock hammer, which he uses to aid with his escape. Ryan would find Blagojevich a cassette player he could use to play all the tapes, as well as some Elvis mixes. Thus begins a bond between the once political opposites.

Now they begin to cultivate their manly connection and trust each other (to the degree that is possible for two convicted politicians). They talk of hope and the future. The relationship between these two felons, like that of the movie characters, becomes the model for all friendships.

Who knows what their future will hold? Once they are both out, will they be political consultants for Fox Chicago News? Or co-host a show on WLS-AM? Whatever the case, we know, they'll somehow always be together.

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Ed Hammer is a retired Illinois Secretary of State Police Captain and author of the book One Hundred Percent Guilty: How and Insider Links the Death of Six Children to the Politics of Convicted Governor George Ryan.

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See also:
* George Ryan's Park Bench
* George Ryan's Dogs and Ponies
* George Ryan's Other Jailhouse Interview
* Bugging The Chicago School Board
* Cop vs. Teacher
* Signs of Change
* Pols vs. Teachers

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on May 31, 2011


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