Sunday, April 23, 2006

Former Gov. Dan Walker Describes Life Behind Bars

Scott Fornek of the Chicago Sun-Times has a timely story today giving Illinois former Gov. Dan Walker's perspective on life behind bars in light of former Gov. George Ryan's conviction this past week on 18 counts of political corruption. Walker does not paint a pretty picture for the 72-year old Ryan. I had always been under the impression that the Minnesota federal prison at which Walker served at was more like a country club than a prison, but it certainly dealt him plenty of bad moments during his 17-month stay, enough that he contemplated suicide at one time. Fornek writes about Walker's time in jail:

He was searched by guards who ordered him to "strip, squat and spread" (which included a humiliating search of all body cavities). He was threatened by fellow inmates when he balked that they were bucking the breakfast line.

His job was scrubbing toilets, but twice a day he had to pick up cigarette butts with a nail on a wooden rod marked "Governor's Stick."

So don't tell former Illinois Gov. Dan Walker that minimum security prison is a picnic or a Club Fed. He calls it "brutal" -- so brutal that he contemplated suicide while inside.

"It's what it does to you personally," Walker said. "It's not like 'hard time,' as they call it. But is it as searing? Yes, yes. For someone like me, yes. Certainly it is searing."

Fornek reminds us, though, that Walker's prison was still not as bad a the prisons to which most offenders are sent. He writes:

Walker was sent to the minimum security prison in Duluth, Minn. It had no bars or locked cells, but a fence surrounded it. The 94-acre former military base had tennis courts, a softball diamond and other recreational facilities, but Walker remembers its isolation and arctic weather.

Although Walker was originally sentenced to 7 years for fraud convictions related to his ownership of an Illinois savings and loan, his sentence was later reduced to the 17 months he served. So what advice does Walker have for Ryan? Fornek writes:

If Ryan does wind up going to prison, Walker said "I hope he doesn't have it as bad as I did" with "a warden who singled me out and made my life miserable."

"But still he will go through what I went through, what everyone goes through when they go to prison -- the loss of freedom," Walker said. "The older you are, the more it hits you. "It will hit him hard, no question about it."

Walker said he had no real advice for Ryan, saying that "would be very presumptuous. "Do your best to hold your head high. That's all I can say."

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