It’s probably too early for former Illinois Gov. George Ryan to consider his next step in life.
He’s basically confined to his Kankakee home until his federal prison sentence officially ends in July. After 5½ years in prison, we imagine he’s enjoying his home and family.
At some point, Ryan will contemplate his next step, whether to get back in the public eye or live out his retirement quietly. If he chooses the public route, he could be a help to the state and its ongoing tussle with public corruption.
Ryan was released from federal prison in Indiana earlier this week and made a quick stop at a Chicago halfway house before going home. Most prisoners spend a few months at the halfway house, easing their way back into society. Prisoners at the house are taught some life skills and required to have jobs.
For the 80-year-old ex-governor, it was a good decision by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to allow Ryan to skip the halfway house stay. Ryan has family support at home, he has the life skills necessary, and his return to society will be easier than for many inmates.
Without a doubt, Ryan deserved his sentence. Both as secretary of state and governor, he allowed his office basically to be up for sale. Hundreds of truck drivers received licenses from his office by bribing officials. Some of the drivers should never have been licensed, and a few were involved in fatal accidents that killed innocent people.
And Ryan paid heavily for his crimes. He served his term in prison, during which his wife and brother died. His state pension was taken away. He’s served his time and a harsh penalty. He deserved the punishment, but now it’s over.
Jim Thompson, the former governor who has represented Ryan, hinted last week that Ryan may return to the public eye to work on death penalty issues. Ryan, a death penalty supporter as a state legislator, approved a moratorium and commuted hundreds of sentences when it became clear that the state was in danger of executing innocent people. His actions paved the way for an overturn of the state’s death penalty law.
If Ryan chooses, he could also serve the state as a spokesman against government corruption. The ex-governor could start by apologizing for his actions in office, something he has never done. He could become an advocate for stricter ethics legislation and an example of what can happen when a popular and capable politician loses his way.
At this point, the choice is Ryan’s. He owes nothing more to the state or its citizens.
But if he wants his legacy to be more than just another Illinois governor who went to prison, he may want to consider an active role in not only death penalty issues but on ethics in public service.