CHICAGO — For the Blagojevich family, the past few years on Sunnyside Avenue in Ravenswood Manor has been dark.
That was clear from Patti Blagojevich, the wife of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, on Tuesday who, in writing and remarks, described what life has been like since her husband has been imprisoned on corruption charges.
The phone rings daily from the former governor, calling from Colorado, where he is serving 14 years (a verdict upheld Tuesday by a federal judge) in a federal prison and camp.
Patti Blagojevich estimates they have spoken on the phone for some 1,200 hours since he was sent to a Colorado federal pen in March of 2012.
"Three hundred minutes a month (400 during November and December) are allotted to each inmate, and we use them up," she said in a letter to the U.S. District Judge James Zagel before he re-sentenced her husband Tuesday after an appellate court dismissed some of the charges.
"Always the eternal optimist, Rod has helped me through many dark days, when the responsibilities seemed overwhelming and unending," she wrote, pleading for a lesser sentence than the 14 years he is currently serving. Rod Blagojevich needed to return to the North Side "and be the father that our daughters need and deserve," his wife wrote.
Zagel rejected the plea, imposing the same 14-year sentence, saying Rod Blagojevich's activities in prison — where attorneys said he has become a mentor and teacher to many — did not lessen the effects of his corruption charges, which included trying to sell a vacant U.S. senator seat.
Patti Blagojevich says Rod's sentence unusually cruel. pic.twitter.com/c2Diq3mqmo— Kelly Bauer (@BauerJournalism) August 9, 2016
Rod Blagojevich, clad in a blue uniform and his trademark hair now snowy white, watched and listened from Colorado, his image flickering on TV screens set up throughout the room. The Blagojeviches' daughters wept and clung to their mother while Zagel spoke, sometimes shaking their heads or burying their face in a loved one's shoulder.
Amy and Annie Blagojevich, 20 and 13, had told Zagel their father was a "friend, confidant and cheerleader" who gives them advice and checks in on them every day from prison. He's helped them grow their interests, discussing history and recommending classical music with Annie, they said.
But they don't see him unless they travel to Denver, Annie Blagojevich said. It's hard to cry or experience intimate family moments when other prisoners or guards watch them during visits, Amy Blagojevich said.
Phone calls "just can't take the place of him being here with us," Annie Blagojevich told Zagel before returning to her family. Her sister hugged her before standing up to tell Zagel about her own loss: Her father wasn't there for her high school graduation and wasn't able to celebrate in person with her when she got into Northwestern University.
"I know this kills him," Amy Blagojevich said. "The longer my father is gone, the stranger Annie and I become to him."
For Patti Blagojevich, who called the decision "heartless," her written plea reflected how painful life has become for the fractured family.
"Please give Annie the chance for a normal, happy childhood that has slipped away from Amy," she wrote in the letter filed with the court Monday night. "I am pleading with you, indeed begging you, to please be merciful.
"Rod knows the short window of Amy and Annie's childhoods is rapidly closing," she said.
Speaking after the hearing in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, a distraught Patti Blagojevich talked to reporters. Next to the former first lady of Illinois was a shaking, teary-eyed Annie; Amy rubbed her sister's shoulder to comfort her.
Patti Blagojevich told the throng of media that she was proud of the daughters and their statements but "it wouldn't have made any difference what they did or what anyone said."
"The judge had clearly made up his mind before it even started," she said of Zagel. "But they went out there because they love their dad, they wanted to do everything they could possibly do to help him."
Patti and family's attorney speaks. pic.twitter.com/2N9wqsVdFR— Kelly Bauer (@BauerJournalism) August 9, 2016
Publicists for Blagojevich asked media to stay away from their neighborhood on Tuesday. TV trucks and reporters have swarmed Ravenswood Manor over the years as Blagojevich battled various corruption charges. The former governor has, in the past, summoned reporters to the front porch of his home.
He was arrested there in December of 2008 being led away in handcuffs. Later, FBI agents were seen removing boxes from the home as neighbors and media watched.
Despite the commotion having a Blagojevich living on the block has meant over the years, he has remained popular in the neighborhood. The couple have been married for almost 26 years.
Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), Patti Blagojevich's sister, was at the courthouse to support the family, sitting with her family in the courtroom and embracing her sister and nieces after Zagel spoke. She stood behind her sister as reporters peppered Patti Blagojevich with questions.
Mell also wrote a letter to the judge urging leniency for her brother in law.
"The circumstances surrounding Rod’s indictment, trial, and eventual sentencing has devastated the lives of my sister and their two beautiful children," Mell wrote.
"His absence left a huge void within the family. With each passing graduation, Christmas morning, and dance recital, the people he loves most in this world have had to learn to carry on without him. All that is left is a faint memory of a happier time."
Letters of support for Rod Blagojevich have been posted by WLS. To read them, click here.
Blagojevich's publicity firm, Florida-based The Publicity Agency, recently posted this file photo from outside the family home on Instagram.
Our friend rod #blagojevich will be resentenced Tuesday in #chicago. His young daughter pictured here is now 13! He was ordered to pay zero restitution because there was no reason to pay. There was not a single victim. While he won a great deal in the court of public opinion, he received 14 years in prison. #blago #chicagopolitics #chicagopolitician #justice #governor #governorrod. Even if you believe he did wrong, when is enough, enough?
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