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UPDATED 03/15/12 12:47 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — The end of the road has come for the nearly 3 1/2-year Rod Blagojevich saga.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, at 1 p.m. Chicago time Thursday, he will report to the FCI Englewood federal prison in Englewood, Colo., to begin serving his 14-year sentence.
Blagojevich’s American Eagle flight had landed at Denver International Airport by 9:52 a.m. He was off the plane by 10:20 a.m.
By 11 a.m., he was headed down an expressway toward the prison. He arrived more than an hour ahead of time, and drove multiple times around the prison in circles afterward.
He exited the car just after noon Chicago time to stop at a fast food restaurant for lunch, where he apparently only drank a cup of pop.
He was back on the road by 12:40 p.m., and pulled into the prison parking lot seven minutes later.
Standing at gate A47 at Denver International Airport after getting off the plane, Blagojevich thanked the people of Illinois and the residents of his former Congressional district before he became governor for the “honor” of allowing him to serve them.
“And I’m leaving; doing something that I never imagined would ever be possible. I’m still hopeful in the future, I’m still, as I said yesterday, in the same place as I was when I talked to the judge back in December,” he said.
Blagojevich proceeded to list his achievements as governor.
“Among the things I take with me is a real sense of pride in what I was able to achieve for people – All Kids insurance – every child getting health care in Illinois; the first in American history to do it; Mammograms and PAP smears for uninsured women; health care for women, for moms and their kids through All Kids. These are programs that actually saved lives. Free rides for senior citizens; not raising taxes on people, and doing it in a way where you have to fight a system to get it done,” he said.
He reiterated a suggestion that he hoped the appeals process might alter his fate.
“This is a process that still is ongoing, and you know, the decision went against me. That’s what the law is, and I accept that, and now I have to bear some of the burdens, and I’m hopeful for the future,” Blagojevich said.
Before the flight, as Blagojevich waited at a gate at O’Hare International Airport, his tone was similarly optimistic.
“We have the truth on our side, and God has a purpose for all of us, and I believe that at the end of the day, there’s a reason and a meaning for this, and we’re going to work through this, and I have to do everything I can to stay strong for my children and for Patti,” he said.
He went through security around 6:55 a.m., stopping to shake hands and take pictures with Transportation Security Administration agents. Many others at the airport also stopped to shake Blagojevich’s hand.
“I can’t begin to tell you how gratifying it is,” Blagojevich said of the support. “It’s very meaningful.”
Blagojevich also addressed the throng of reporters as he left his house on North Richmond Street in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood around 6:10 a.m.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports
“Saying goodbye is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Blagojevich said. “I’m leaving with a heavy heart and clear conscience. I have high, high hopes for the future. Among the hopes is that you guys can go home, and our neighbors can get our neighborhood back.”
When the plane leaves, it will take him for his last flight in many years to Colorado.
CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said Blagojevich would have been well advised to leave for Colorado on Wednesday night instead, since airlines and air traffic control cannot always be depended upon.
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov says if Blagojevich is even one minute late in arriving in prison, he is technically considered an escapee.
“They could take away telephone privileges. They could take away commissary privileges. They could take away his television,” Miller said.
Blagojevich spokesman Glenn Selig tweeted Thursday morning that the deposed governor’s wife, Patti, and daughters, Amy and Annie, will remain in Chicago and will not accompany him. But his attorneys will.
On Wednesday, Blagojevich gave his final formal address, surrounded by a crowd of supporters. He echoed a familiar theme of pride in his term as governor from 2003 to until his arrest and impeachment at the end of 2008.
“I believe I always, always thought about what was right for the people and I am proud as I leave,” he said. “I am proud as I leave and enter the next part of what is a dark and hard journey that I can take with me the sense of, the sense of accomplishment and the real belief that the things that I did as governor and the things that I did as Congressman have actually helped real ordinary people.”
During his speech, Blagojevich also claimed once again that he never intended to break the law.
“When I became governor I fought a lot. Maybe I fought too much. Maybe one of the lessons for this whole story is that you’ve got to be maybe a little more humble. You can never have enough humility, and maybe I could have had more of that.”
He continued: “It’s hard for me to say that I have to go to prison. That’s a hard word for me to say. And in the nighttime when I say my prayers, I speak to God euphemistically about helping Patti and the kids through this, and then me through this next phase.”
During his speech, Blagojevich spent some time talking about the hardship he’s about to face, especially leaving his wife Patti and two daughters.
He even confessed that there are times he wants to give up, but when he looks into the eyes of his daughters, he knows that’s not what a father is supposed to do. He said he needs to show them how to fight through adversity and to stand strong.
After the speech, in true Rod Blagojevich fashion, he gloated in the attention. He shook hands, gave autographs, talked to reporters again – even though he said he wouldn’t take any questions.
Blagojevich also hinted at appealing his sentence. He said: “I still believe this is America. This is a country that is governed by the rule of law.”
He went on to say the truth will ultimately prevail and this is not over.
At the very end, he said, “I will see you around.”
Many of the supporters signed a poster backing Blagojevich, and some signed petitions asking for a presidential pardon for the former governor.
“I think Rod Blagojevich was unfairly treated. Child molesters don’t spend 14 years in jail,” said supporter Cindy Hicks.
But when he arrives in prison and enters through the front doors, there won’t be any supporters. There will only be prison officials and reporters covering his prison surrender.
He will not receive any preferential treatment in prison. He will be a number, like every other prisoner in the facility.
He will have to give up all of his possessions, except for a simple wedding ring and prescription eyeglasses.
Once inside, Blagojevich will be given a uniform and get a photo ID that he’ll have to carry at all times. He’ll meet his unit team, which will include his case manager, correctional counselor and corrections officer.
He will have visitors only from Friday through Monday, and will only have 300 minutes a month to speak to family and friends.
He’ll be assigned a full-time prison job with the eventual possibility of earning performance pay.
Blagojevich can spend that money in the prison commissary for personal items, but will be limited to $320 a month.
He’ll live in a small room with at least one roommate, and as many as three.
As for his personal grooming, or prison haircut, the prison guidebook states he can keep whatever hairstyle he wants – as long as it will not cause a disruption among the inmate population.