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Rod Blagojevich Says He Rebuffed White Supremacists In Prison, & Other Interview Takeaways

By Stephen Gossett in News on Sep 12, 2017 3:20PM

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, center, walks with attorneys as he arrives at the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in Littleton, Colo., on Thursday, March 15, 2012, where he began serving his 14-year sentence for corruption. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Rod Blagojevich makes about $8 a month working as an orderly, he pretty much shuns the TV room, and he rebuffed the protection of white supremacists while in prison. Those are just a handful of the fascinating takeaways from a pair of interviews that were released on Monday night, from Chicago magazine and NBC5. They represent his first on-record talks with the media since he went to prison, back in 2012.

One of the most eye-catching anecdotes sees Blagojevich, as he tells it, being told by a guard captain that he should consider teaming up with the prison's white "shot caller" for protection—a recommendation the ex-gov says he snubbed once the group's white-supremacist ideology was clear.

David Bernstein wrote in Chicago magazine:

Within his first few days, Blagojevich was summoned to the guard captain’s office for a lesson on the ins and outs of prison-yard politics. The captain and a couple of other correctional officers had found out that he’d walked the track with a black inmate. “They felt I should be made aware of the usual way things were done,” Blagojevich says. They suggested that for his protection he “ride” with a couple of other inmates in a “car” (prison slang for traveling in a clique). “The purpose is to have people who will stand behind you, should you find yourself facing a physical threat.” One of the inmates the officers recommended, Blagojevich soon discovered, was the “shot caller” of the prison’s white contingency. "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."

That tale spins out into another fascinating one in which, according to his account, Blagojevich teamed up with a prison friend—a former West Side drug dealer in his 60s, dubbed Mr. B in the article—to become "mini civil rights activists with neither a following or a cause anyone cared about," as the former governor sat with Mr. B at a table that had only been used by black inmates.

Bernstein writes:

One night, the two hatched a plan “in the spirit of Dr. King and his efforts to end segregation,” says Blagojevich. As a modest challenge to FCI Englewood’s racial division, Blagojevich sat with Mr. B for lunch at one of the tables designated for blacks. “At first, heads turned,” Blagojevich says. “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.” They alternated between the black and white sides of the cafeteria.

Stil, despite many intriguing nuggets like the ones above, one aspect that continually shines through is the punishing toll that Blagojevich's 14-year sentence for corruption has taken on him, his family and their relationship—and the amount of resolve necessary to emotionally navigate the situation. Patti Blagojevich, Rod's wife, said she she faces "a tough row to hoe. But I can’t indulge in feeling sorry for myself. My kids are sad and anxious, like they have PTSD. It’s been really hard for them. I can’t let myself go there. I’ve got my nervous breakdown scheduled for, like, 10 years from now, when [daughter] Annie’s out of college. That’s when I can fall apart."

Read Chicago magazine's full interview here, and find NBC5's interview below. (The new photo seen in the tweet was taken with a camera that Blagojevich rented from the prison commissary.)