Rod Blagojevich spends his time in prison mopping floors for $8 a month, working on his Elvis Presley impersonation with the “Jailhouse Rockers” — and helping inmates prepare for job interviews.
The former governor says his heart was broken when the prison gates swung closed behind him five years ago, and he couldn’t see even “the flicker of a light at the end of a tunnel.”
Showing little sign of remorse, Blagojevich insists he does not hate “the people who have done this to me.”
“Do you realize I have twice been given a longer prison sentence than Al Capone?” Blagojevich asked NBC5’s Phil Rogers. “I’ve been given a prison sentence by the same judge who gave a mafia hit man … He acknowledged under oath [he was] a contract killer. … My judge gave me a longer sentence than him.”
The disgraced Democrat — whose trademark pre-prison dark hair has all turned a radiant grayish-white — spoke with Rogers by telephone. Blagojevich also gave an interview to Chicago magazine. Both media outlets made their interviews public Monday night.
Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year sentence on corruption charges in a Colorado prison, said he isn’t conducting interviews to try to get a pardon from President Donald Trump, whom he met on “The Apprentice.” President Barack Obama chose not to grant Blagojevich an early release before leaving office.
“He insists that that’s not his primary focus right now,” Rogers told the Chicago Sun-Times. “His primary focus is the Supreme Court, because he sees this as a chance to be completely exonerated, to have the court say that he didn’t do anything wrong.”
Before Blagojevich’s original sentencing in 2011, Trump said Blagojevich’s conviction sounded like “just a lot of political stuff … more than pure corruption.”
Blagojevich — whom Rogers noted is the “same Rod Blagojevich that we all knew” — joked about his mop duties, saying because the prison limits how much time an inmate can spend on a job, he is subject to term limits. He also joked about his $8 monthly salary — for a law school graduate and former governor — calling it a reversal of the “American Dream.”
“My jurisdiction has shrunk from the fifth biggest state in America to these two floors, but I don’t care what anybody says, Phil. I believe in clean government, and clean floors,” Blagojevich told Rogers.
Blagojevich also told Rogers that his prison band was originally called “G-Rod and the Jailhouse Rockers,” but he said “that sounded too gang-bangerish, and so the powers that be said just call it ‘Jailhouse Rockers.'”
“And you know, my two-bit Elvis impersonation got a little less bad, as I was able to actually work at the singing,” he told Rogers.
Jokes aside, Blagojevich said his goal is to “take one day at a time.” He said he reads the Bible daily and his faith has taught him that “forgiveness is mandatory,” and that it’s “liberating to not hold grudges.”
“I have a purpose. My purpose is very simple. I have to be strong and deal with this affliction and accept the fate that has been assigned to be in a manful way,” Blagojevich said.
Rogers told the Sun-Times Blagojevich was “happy” to talk about life in prison but also wanted to talk about his case: “He still insists that he is innocent and he still says that he will prove it.”
The Federal Bureau of Prisons would not allow an interview of the former governor inside the prison. The interviews were conducted on the phone in two separate one-hour calls, Rogers noted. The former first lady Patti Blagojevich was also interviewed in her Chicago home.
Patti Blagojevich said she believes her husband lives for the 10-minute phone calls home every day. She said visits are especially difficult on the couple’s daughters.
“There’s always that post visit depression,” Patti Blagojevich told Rogers. “My little one — and I’m sure she doesn’t want me saying this — but I mean the minute we say goodbye to him on that Sunday night when we’re leaving, she cries all the way to the airport.”
The first part of the NBC interview aired Monday, with additional segments on Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 10 p.m., and a half-hour special airing at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.
Chicago magazine will publish its interview in the October issue, but posted it online Monday night.
Upon his arrival in prison, guards recommended to Blagojevich that he seek out protection from other white inmates, as the prison population is largely self-segregated by race, David Bernstein wrote in Chicago magazine.
“Initially, to be respectful to the officers, and on their recommendation, I sought those guys out. It was then that I realized they were white supremacists and politely declined their offer of protection,” Blagojevich told Bernstein.
For a time, the former governor found friendship in another inmate from Chicago — “Mr. B,” a black drug dealer from the West Side. The two attempted to upend the racial division within the prison by eating lunch together.
“At first, heads turned,” Blagojevich said. “And then—nothing. It turned out to be no big deal. No one really cared. No one complained. The days came and went, and I would sit with Mr. B every day at lunch.”
Blagojevich is not due to get out of prison until May 2024.
Contributing: Sam Charles