Former Prison Counselor To Blago: ‘Make The Best Of It’
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Updated 03/14/12 – 4:34 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – In the final hours before he reports to prison, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is spending as much time as he can with his family.
Although the former governor was seen outside of his house a couple times during the day, he spent most of his time inside.
News helicopters hovered over his home for much of the afternoon on Wednesday and dozens of reporters and well-wishers gathered outside his home to wait for his final public statement, scheduled for 5:02 p.m.
Reporters surrounded Blagojevich as he left the house with his daughter, Annie, and a longtime friend who has frequently been mistaken for male model Fabio. When the former governor and his daughter returned about half an hour later, Annie chastised reporters who surrounded her father.
“If you’re going to see him at 5, then don’t do it now!” she shouted.
“That’s my baby,” Blagojevich said with a laugh. “She wanted me to tell you that we’re going to talk at 5 o’clock, we’ll see you then.”
But as reporters continued to ask Blagojevich questions while he walked into the house, Annie shouted out again.
“Ask questions later,” she said.
Blagojevich’s defense attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, showed up at the house later Wednesday afternoon. Sorosky said it was a sad day for his client, but he thought Blagojevich seemed to be keeping a positive attitude.
“He seemed very upbeat, and very hopeful, of course,” Sorosky said.
Sorosky said Blagojevich’s appeal was still in the “embryonic stages,” but he said he was confident Blagojevich had a chance to get his conviction overturned.
Several Blagojevich supporters gathered in front of the house throughout the day. Some of them pitched a sign reading, “We will pray for you,” and “thank you.”
Another sign called for “leniency” for Blagojevich and asked people to call the White House.
“It’s very sad. Chicago is very sad. Anybody who has a family, to see these kids taken away,” said Ziff Sistrunk, director of the Kirby Puckett Youth Center on the city’s South Side. “Chicago and Illinois, and the United States, could have been benefited by Mr. Blagojevich’s use of his talents and skills.”
Sometime between Wednesday evening, when Blagojevich addresses reporters outside his home around 5 p.m., and Thursday morning, Blagojevich will leave Chicago and fly to Denver, then drive to suburban Littleton, Colo.
He must report to the Englewood federal prison by 1 p.m. Chicago time Thursday. CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov has a look at what Blagojevich will face on his first day.
When Blagojevich walks through the prison doors at Englewood, he will lose almost all personal possessions, have restricted visiting hours, and live with little to no privacy in a room with at least one other roommate.
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One former prison worker said it’s tough, but he’s seen inmates successfully adjust.
Former Englewood corrections officer and counseling officer Tim Allport said, “I can’t imagine him getting preferential treatment.”
At 6’5”, Allport is a hulking presence. He said he approached prisoners the same way he’d approach anyone else.
“Just, if I had a question, I would ask them. If they had a question, they would ask me,” Allport said.
In other words, Allport and other officers tried to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect behind the prison’s barbed wire and metal fences – to a degree.
“Prison’s a very equalizing experience,” he said.
It’s something Blagojevich will begin learning firsthand on Thursday, when he reports to Englewood to begin his 14-year sentence for his corruption conviction.
Federal defense attorney Rick Kornfeldt said he’s had a lot of clients sent to the prison in Littleton, Colo.
“A lot have gone to Englewood, because it’s one of the places that white collar folks end up,” he said.
Kornfeld spent about six years as a federal prosecutor in Chicago, before moving home to Colorado.
In his experience with clients, he said, “the people that do the best are people that realize that … they may have controlled their environment in the civilian world, or the outside world. The prison, they make it very clear, very quickly: you don’t control your environment.”
That could be difficult for the man who used to run the state.
Allport’s advice? “I would just advise people to make the best of it.”
Allport spent many of his 25 years at Englewood working as a counselor. He said there are programs inside the prison to benefit inmates like Blagojevich. The goal, he said, is rehabilitation.
The prison, built nearly 75 years ago, sits amid the sprawling Denver suburbs. Littleton resident Vickie Gibbs said, “It’s very, very nice; a little bit more upper class.”
That’s how people who live in Littleton describe it: peaceful, even with the federal prison right across the street.
Kristin Osborne said, “I’ve actually felt pretty safe, because if you look right down the road, you see a big (guard) tower.”
Osborne has lived in the Quincy Lake subdivision for four years, and she said there have been no problems. Security is tight. Inmates’ lives are kept very much out of public view.
Allport said, “You always have to remember you’re at … as do the inmates. We make them remember where they’re at.”
Allport spent 25 years working inside FCI Englewood, the prison where Blagojevich will likely spend the next 12 years of his life.
Visitation is only allowed Friday through Monday, and inmates only get so many hours of visitation per month. Calls are allowed, but limited to 300 minutes a month.
Allport said it’s tough, but inmates can do well.
“Most of the time they adjust fine,” he said.
Inside, there’s also a law and lending library, a weight room, a recreation yard, and arts and crafts programs. But Blagojevich should expect to have very little control over his time or life, and expect little comfort.
“He’ll see firsthand that the overcrowding in these prisons – even the lows – there’s hardly any space for your personal items,” said Dale Deshotel, president of the Council of Prison Locals, the federal prison workers’ union.
When the Englewood prison was built nearly 75 years ago, it was in the middle of nowhere, but now it’s in the middle of sprawling suburbia. Inside the prison, however, things haven’t changed much.
Blagojevich will be allowed to bring very little inside the prison, except for a plain wedding band and prescription eyeglasses. Although visitation is allowed, considering how far away the prison is from Chicago, one has to wonder how many visitors he will get in Colorado. His wife and children are not expected to move closer to Denver to be near him.