TERRE HAUTE – If former Illinois Gov. George Ryan thought he was forgotten during his five years in prison, a quick look outside the Terre Haute federal penitentiary Tuesday would have shown him he was not.
At least a dozen members of the Chicago news media – representing several television stations and the Chicago Tribune newspaper – were camped outside the main entrance to the prison, hoping to catch a glimpse (and video footage) of the former governor.
“It’s a crap shoot,” said one photographer, whose hefty video camera was planted at the corner of Springhill Drive and Indiana 63.
No one knew for sure when Ryan, 78, would be leaving the prison. The news crews kept their eyes peeled for vehicles – especially large, expensive ones – with Illinois license plates.
Several passing local motorists paused to roll down their windows and ask what the fuss was about.
“We’re waiting for one of our Illinois governors to be released,” a newsman answered.
“Blagojevich?” asked the driver.
“No, the other one,” the newsman said.
Four of the past seven Illinois governors have gone to prison. Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, Dan Walker (governor from 1973-1977) and Otto Kerner (1961-1968).
One Chicago news photographer remembered Terre Haute – and the federal prison – from the 2001 execution of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.
“Is there still that restaurant in town owned by the Egyptian man?” the photographer asked, referring to Magdy’s on South Sixth Street. “We used to hang out there and at the Verve,” he recalled.
Despite representing NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, the television crews got along well as they waited patiently for any sign of the former governor. They laughed, talked shop, chatted over cell phones with producers back in Chicago and complained among themselves about a nearby business that was less-than-welcoming in allowing the free use of its restroom.
The prison has more than one way in and out, and some news crews were stationed at other entrances. One way or another, their goal was to see the former state leader as he left. But no one really expected Ryan to stop and hold an impromptu press conference.
How long would they stay outside the prison grounds? As long as it takes to see the former governor in his first moments of freedom, they said. If necessary, crews were coming to take the night shift and the cameras and reporters would be back again this morning, waiting for this Illinois governor’s return to freedom.
Terre Haute Tribune-Star reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.