Updated 03/15/12 – 4:52 p.m.
LITTLETON, Colo. (CBS) — More than three years after being arrested by federal agents while still serving his governor, Rod Blagojevich has reported to a federal prison in Colorado to begin his 14-year sentence.
After driving past the prison a few times, then stopping at a hamburger restaurant for a Coke, Blagojevich arrived by car at FCI Englewood, a low-security federal prison in Littleton, Colo., and walked into the complex at 12:50 p.m. Chicago time, approximately 10 minutes before his required surrender time.
While making a pit stop at the Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers in Littleton, Blagojevich granted one last interview to reporters, saying he misses home already.
“There’s no sugar-coating this. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. And I have a hole in my heart. It’s an empty feeling,” he said.
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Freddy’s general manager Josh Andreakos said Blagojevich’s attorneys ordered a double patty melt for him, but he only ate part of it, then gave the rest to some students at the restaurant.
“He seemed like he was in good spirits. He went around and shook hands and talked to a few people and then left,” Andreakos said.
Blagojevich shook hands and posed for photos with many of the customers inside the restaurant before sitting down to drink a cup of Coke and talk to reporters one final time.
Blagojevich said, even while driving past the prison, he still had a hard time telling himself he was going behind bars.
“I have a hard time saying that word, that I have to go into a prison. I mean, I keep speaking euphemistically about a place,” Blagojevich said. “I look at it like a military base, like I’m reporting to do military service. That’s a little game I play with myself. But the sad reality is that’s a prison that I have to walk into shortly.”
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The former governor maintained that he believes his appeal of his conviction on 18 corruption counts will eventually clear his name while he is in prison.
“I feel that I have to do this real hard thing as part of this terrible thing that’s been happening to my family and to me and hope that, ultimately, what I believe is a terrible wrong will ultimately be righted,” Blagojevich said. “In the meantime, the decision was as it is. It is what the law says it is and I have to abide by the law as I always believe that I have, and I’m going to now do something that I … I’m loathe to do, but I must do. And I’m going to do it as best I can.”
Blagojevich said he hopes his plight will help teach his daughters, Amy and Annie, a lesson about the hardships that many families go through.
“What I said to my kids is what I said to my kids yesterday. It’s that sometimes, inexplicably, terrible things happen, calamities happen, disasters strike; and … they’re hard to comprehend and understand. Life is filled with hardship and life can hurt,” Blagojevich said. “This is an extreme circumstance, but our family is not the only family that’s going through real hard times, suffering loss. And there are other families who are going through much worse loss than what we have to go through, as bad as this is.”
He also lamented that the Catholic high school his daughter, Amy, attends, will soon be closing, at a time when his family needs as much stability as possible. St. Scholastica Academy at 7416 N. Ridge Blvd., has been struggling financially for the last 15 years and does not have enough money to remain open after this school year.
“During these very hard times for our family, it’s been a sanctuary for Amy. It’s been a safe place for her, a place where she can learn, develop friendships, close-knit relationships with the other girls that go to school there, and with the sisters, the nuns and the teachers,” Blagojevich said. “It’s a devastating blow to Amy, especially the timing of it, with me leaving and now the announcement that the school is going to close and she’s going to lose her school.”
Blagojevich and his attorneys spent more than an hour driving from the Denver airport to the prison, then wandering around Littleton before stopping off at the burger joint. Asked what they talked about, defense attorney Aaron Goldstein told CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov that “there were a lot of things going on. First we were trying to maneuver our way through Denver. … Rod was … had a lot of phone conversations. He was talking to Patti and the kids over and over again.”
Blagojevich said he spent much of that time on the phone with his family, especially with his younger daughter, Annie.
“She’s got a red little nose, her mother tells me; and she keeps telling me, you know, what she’s going through; and I keep trying to reassure her,” he said. “That’s really the hardest part of this, is the impact on your kids.”
As he was often fond of doing before going to prison, Blagojevich also quoted a line of poetry and referred to the Bible in describing his own plight.
“If you look at history, if you … read the stories in the Bible, there are all kinds of stories that … have this narrative,” Blagojevich said.
“I started out and I got way up high, and I’m now down way low – lower than where I even started – but I don’t believe this is the end of the story,” he added. “I do believe that … like the poet said ‘The valleys make the mountains smaller.’ And I believe that, you know, ultimately right makes might and the right will prevail here.”
Arriving at Denver International Airport from Chicago earlier Thursday morning, 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 and two of his attorneys — and friends — Goldstein and Sheldon Sorosky, drove to the prison after their stop at the burger restaurant. Blagojevich waved to a gaggle of reporters and cameras across the street from the prison before walking inside.
Goldstein said he gave Blagojevich a parting hug before the former governor was taken into custody, but “there wasn’t really the opportunity to say a lot.”
He said if Blagojevich was scared or anxious about going to prison, he didn’t show it. He said he has no doubt Blagojevich will be okay during his time in prison.
Goldstein said Blagojevich did not bring his wedding band with him to prison, even though it’s one of the few personal items inmates are allowed to bring with them. He also said Blagojevich and his wife decided it was best for Patti and the children to stay home Thursday, rather than traveling to the prison with him.
According to Goldstein, once the former governor walked up to the main entrance of the prison, it took only minutes before Blagojevich was handcuffed and taken away by federal authorities. It was an orderly process that followed their winding and somewhat chaotic trip from Chicago to Denver to Littleton.
Experts say Blagojevich 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.
Following two trials, Blagojevich was convicted of 18 counts of corruption, including trying to sell President Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat in 2008.
Federal officials said it costs $73.57 per day to house an inmate in a low-security prison like Englewood. That works out to $26,853.05 a year. If Blagojevich serves his full 14-year sentence – including the three Leap Days he would spend in prison – the grand total would be $376.163.41.