After former Gov. George Ryan secured his release from home confinement Wednesday, a day earlier than planned, one of his first acts as an officially free man was to do something mundane for most: He went to the barbershop for a haircut.
In good spirits, the 79-year-old ended more than 5½ years in federal custody for wide-ranging corruption offenses earlier in the morning by filling out forms at a Chicago halfway house. Outside his home later in the day, a smiling and joking Ryan told reporters he was savoring his freedom.
"I feel wonderful," he said. "Freedom's a great thing, and I'm glad I got mine back."
He said he took care of getting a haircut right away, but still has to tend to some dental issues that arose during his more than five years in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.
"The dental care there was -- like most everything else -- lousy," Ryan said.
Otherwise, he said he felt good mentally and physically, pointing out that he lost 40 pounds while in prison and has kept the weight off. He joked with a veteran reporter, saying it appeared he had lost weight, too.
"You been in prison or what?" Ryan asked.
In January, Ryan was moved to home confinement at his residence in Kankakee, about 60 miles south of Chicago. For the past five months, he was only allowed to venture out of his house for such activities as a doctor's appointment or church.
He was released Wednesday morning, one day ahead of schedule because of the July Fourth holiday, Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke said.
Ryan arrived at the halfway house after 7 a.m. Wednesday to complete the paperwork for his release, said Bob Ciulla, operations manager at the Salvation Army Residential Reentry Center who assisted the ex-governor. He said Ryan was well-organized, so it only took about 20 minutes to fill out and sign the required documents.
"He was clearly happy to have this part of his life behind him," Ciulla said. "He is going forward with his life."
Wednesday didn't sever all of Ryan's ties with authorities, however.
He still will be subject to a year of supervision and must meet with a probation officer periodically, Ciulla said, although it's not clear how often or where. And while he can move freely around Kankakee, Ryan must let authorities know if he wants to travel far from the city, said his lawyer and friend, former Gov. Jim Thompson.
Ryan, a Republican, was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI in 2006. He also was accused of stopping an investigation into secretary of state employees accepting bribes for truck driver's licenses.
Ryan was sentenced to 6½ years in prison in 2007, but his sentence was reduced for good behavior and he was released from the Indiana prison on Jan. 30. Once he arrived in Kankakee for his home confinement, a grandchild handed him an urn that held the ashes of Ryan's wife, Lura Lynn, who died in 2011 while he was in prison, Thompson said at the time.
Asked Wednesday about his wife, Ryan conceded it was difficult returning to their longtime home without her there.
"It's an empty house without my wife of some 60 years," he said. "That's life."
Ryan drew national attention in 2003 when he deemed Illinois' capital punishment laws flawed and emptied death row. That reignited a nationwide debate and led the state to abolish its death penalty in 2011. Advocacy groups lobbying to end capital punishment nationwide tout Ryan and, in the past, some have talked about him possibly becoming a national spokesman for their cause.
Ryan told reporters Wednesday that his to-do list includes writing a book. He said he's started it, but didn't elaborate on what it will cover.
He added that he also wants to become active in several causes. Although he didn't give details, he hinted that opposing the death penalty is one of them.
"I haven't abandoned that cause," Ryan said.