KANKAKEE, Ill. – Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan left his home early Wednesday for the 255-mile trip to the federal correctional center in Oxford, Wis., where he will serve a 6 1/2-year sentence for corruption.
Ryan waved to reporters waiting for his departure and looked up at helicopters hovering overhead, but did not answer any questions shouted to him as he climbed into the front seat of a van to begin the trip. He was accompanied by his wife and other family members.
The pharmacist-turned-governor, who gained international acclaim for his opposition to the death penalty, has said he will fight to clear his name even while sitting in prison.
"Tomorrow I embark on a new journey in my life. I do so with a firm faith in God and the support and faith of my family," Ryan said Tuesday night, surrounded by his wife, Lura Lynn, his children and other friends.
The 73-year-old is reporting as ordered after an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected.
"But I do so with a clear conscience. And I have said since the beginning of this 10-year ordeal that I am innocent and I intend to prove that," Ryan said.
Ryan thanked his supporters.
"To the people of Illinois, I'm not blind to the sentiment that some hold but I want you to know that I did my best," he said.
Former Gov. James Thompson, Ryan's chief defense counsel, said he was not surprised by U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens' decision not to grant bail while Ryan continues to press his case before the nation's highest court.
"We knew that our petition for bail was a long shot," he told reporters at a news conference. But Thompson said he would go ahead and try to get the Supreme Court to consider Ryan's appeal.
Ryan must report Wednesday to the minimum-security prison camp, located about 60 miles north of Madison. It has space for 206 inmates in four wings, said Mike Truman, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington. It is in a mostly rural area with land set aside nearby for waterfowl habitat.
Ryan's typical work day will begin at 7:30 a.m. and include duties such as mopping floors, cleaning toilets, raking leaves, cutting grass, painting and shoveling snow, Truman said.
Ryan was convicted of steering big-money state contracts to friends, using state money and state workers to run his campaigns and killing an investigation of bribes paid for truck driver's licenses.
His claim that he did not receive a fair trial is based primarily on chaotic jury deliberations. Two jurors were dismissed after it was found they had omitted mention of their police records on a questionnaire.
Ryan and co-defendant Larry Warner, whose request for bail also was turned down by the high court, have remained free on bond since their April 2006 convictions.