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Blagojevich optimistic after 1 year in prison, family left with 'aching hole'

By Annie Sweeney and Kim Geiger, Chicago Tribune reporters

3:35 PM EDT, March 15, 2013

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Last March, an adoring crowd of supporters gathered outside the Ravenswood Manor home of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and chanted "Free our governor" as the disgraced politician was about to set off for federal prison.

"This is not over," Blagojevich said as he basked in his final moments under the spotlight at the prime-time news conference. "We have faith in the future, faith in the rule of law. … I'll see you again."

The next day, exactly one year ago Friday, Blagojevich checked into Federal Correctional Institution-Englewood, a low-security prison 15 miles southwest of Denver, to start serving a 14-year prison sentence for attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama on his election as president in 2008.

In a Facebook posting today, Patti Blagojevich refused to call the day an anniversary because the word implies a celebration.

"All that we have been left with is a aching hole in our lives," she writes. "When you measure how much Rod has missed-the birthdays, holidays, Amy passing her driving test, the musical recitals and even just the ordinary moments at breakfast time before the girls leave for school, the loss feels all consuming. Unfortunately, those moment have been stolen from my children and there is no getting them back."

She notes that Blagojevich speaks to his family daily and that the former governor, "Teaches a class on the Civil War, is learning to play the guitar and runs miles and miles around the quarter-mile track that is available to him."

After logging one year as Inmate 40892-424, Blagojevich, 56, remains optimistic and positive, two of his attorneys said Thursday. He continues to have faith that he will be vindicated through the appeal of his conviction and sentence, said Lauren Kaeseberg, one of his attorneys.

"He believes justice in the end will prevail," Kaeseberg said. "He wakes up every day in a horrible place and that's what gets him through every day, is a belief that in the end the right thing will happen."

To fight the dreary routine of prison and the prospect that he could be locked up for more than a decade, Blagojevich is journaling, reading and running regularly, his attorneys said.

"He is trying to become a better man physically, emotionally and mentally," Kaeseberg said. "He is working on himself."

He is teaching history to other inmates and setting goals for himself, both physically and otherwise, Kaeseberg said. He is buoyed largely by daily calls to his wife and daughters. Inmates are allowed a total of five hours on the phone each month.

After more than three turbulent years in which Blagojevich was arrested, impeached, tried and convicted, his family has kept a low profile. They make the approximately thousand-mile journey to see him once every couple of months, Kaeseberg said.

"That visiting room has to be one of the saddest places on Earth though," Blagojevich's wife, Patti, wrote in a Facebook post last May. "All those little kids visiting their dads. It breaks your heart."

Patti Blagojevich and other relatives could not be reached or declined to comment for this story.

The former governor has adjusted well with other inmates and is living in a large, dorm-style cell with bunks, his attorneys said.

"He is a very likable person," Kaeseberg said. "He's adaptable. He is really doing as well (as he can)."

One issue Blagojevich's attorneys would not comment on was his famous raven coif. Neither attorney could say whether his hair has grayed in prison, though his longtime barber revealed after the former governor's surrender to prison the poorly kept secret that he dyed his hair.

It's unclear if Blagojevich has access in prison to hair dye, though dyes are not included in the Federal Bureau of Prisons' list of hygiene products provided to inmates.

"I haven't seen a picture," said Aaron Goldstein, another Blagojevich lawyer. "I expect proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Tribune reporter Carlos Sadovi contributed


asweeney@tribune.com

kgeiger@tribune.com