One of country’s most noteworthy political criminals is speaking out for the first time from prison.
Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, was arrested in 2008 and later sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption for attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat in exchange for political favors, as well as other charges.
Now, for the first time since he began his sentence in 2012, he’s opening up in a new interview with Chicago magazine.
Blagojevich has never admitted guilt for his crimes, and during his original trial chose not to plead guilty, which could have landed him a lesser sentence. (He did, at a resentencing hearing last year, admit to making “mistakes” and apologized to the citizens of Illinois, according to the Chicago Tribune.)
“I chose to fight and not to surrender and to endure all that has come because, what other choice did I have?” he told Chicago. “I firmly believe that I never crossed any lines in seeking to raise campaign contributions … I believed I knew what the law was and that I followed it.”
On March 15, 2012, Blagojevich (who appeared on now-President Donald Trump’s show Celebrity Apprentice in 2010) flew from Chicago to Colorado, where he then reported to the Federal Correctional Institution, Englewood, in Littleton, about 14 miles outside of Denver. After 32 months in the low-security facility, he’s now been transferred to minimum security — and he’s made something of a life for himself behind bars.
Blagojevich — who is nicknamed “Gov” in prison — has worked in the kitchen, taught history classes to fellow inmates, and is now an orderly, where he makes $8.40 a month.
“My jurisdiction was once all of the State of Illinois. Now I’ve got two hallways to clean,” he said. “I feel like I was a very good governor, and now I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job on those floors.”
Now, he says he feels more connected to his faith, exercises regularly and has made new friends. Most notably, his once thick, brown head of hair has turned completely silver.
Of course, there are still difficulties. Namely, missing his two daughters, Amy and Annie, and his wife, Patti.
“The loneliness is still there today,” he says. “But it’s different. The sharpness of the pain that was so intense at the beginning —where sometimes you felt you would never feel anything but that pain — has with the passing of all these years, slowly and imperceptibly aged into a sadness that has found a home inside of me. It is beneath the surface and not as intense, but it’s always with me.”
Meanwhile, Patti’s had hardships of her own as she raises their daughters alone and says she is treated as an exile by several friends after her husband’s arrest. However, she says she doesn’t mourn her lost place in the Illinois political scene: “I stay away from that. I don’t want to see all these politicians I can’t stand.”
Blagojevich still has seven years to go before he can be eligible for early release in 2024. Last year, he was re-sentenced without a reduction in time — though he and his family pleaded for it.
“It’s a terrifying prospect,” he says of his remaining sentence. “I can’t lie.”
Although he still hopes to one day have his conviction overturned — the next step would be the Supreme Court — he’s hoping to have a “second act” after prison.
Still, he said he doesn’t regret his decision to fight the charges, even if it made his life more difficult.
“It is a hard and unhappy experience,” he said. “My life has been brought to ruin. I live in exile.”