Blago is back. Rod Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois and criminal justice reform advocate gave his first criminal justice speech at the Inmates to Entrepreneurs graduation ceremony on Tuesday evening via Zoom.
His message came from his own personal experience. The former governor served eight years in prison after being found guilty of 17 counts of corruption. During his time behind bars, Blagojevich learned many things, and hoped to inspire the future businessmen and women with his message.
Approximately 60 people graduated from the national course this fall, which “is giving you the tools that you need so you can begin your comeback,” Blagojevich noted. During his speech via Zoom, the former governor told the graduates that he learned many lessons throughout his own journey. “In so many ways, we have shared experiences,” Blagojevich said.
He gave the graduates four key things to keep in mind as they move forward and start their own businesses. “Acknowledge the fact that there are challenges ahead,” he started, adding that they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. “You can’t do it by yourself. No man is an island.”
“Don’t look back on the past, look ahead. Take the lessons and apply them as you move forward,” he continued. Blagojevich also told the graduates not to doubt themselves and to be confident. “I was amazed at the skill, the talent, the resourcefulness that so many of you have,” he said of the prisoners he encountered during his time in jail.
Finally, Blagojevich said the most important thing to keep in mind was that slow and steady wins the race, and there’s no need to rush. “Take the patience you learned in prison and use it now,” he encourage the graduates, adding that nothing will be as hard as what they just came out of. “Draw inspiration from your hard experience,” Blagojevich said.
“Your comeback will be 100 times greater than your setback,” he told the virtual audience. “Some men and some women rise back on stepping stones from their dead selves.”
Blagojevich also noted that our criminal justice system is “broken and racist,” and called for reform, which he advocated for during his time as governor.
“Inmates to Entrepreneurs is an invaluable program to help men and women develop the necessary skills to start and run a business,” Blagojevich said in a press release regarding the speech. “During my eight years in prison, I discovered how smart, resourceful and enterprising many of the men I served time with are – they just need some direction. Directing inmates to become entrepreneurs offers the best chance at a second chance. I believe the comeback is always stronger than the setback,” former Governor Blagojevich continued.
The Inmates to Entrepreneurs program was founded in 1992 by entrepreneur Brian Hamilton to reduce the rate of recidivism in the United States by providing a path to financial stability and success, the press release for the event states. Charlie Bradley, CEO of Brian Hamilton Foundation, supporter of Inmates to Entrepreneur program, conducted the virtual ceremony, and Hamilton introduced Blagojevich.
Blagojevich served nearly two terms as governor of Illinois from 2003 to 2009. His political career was upended in 2008, when he was arrested for his involvement in several “pay to play” schemes with the goal for filling the vacant Senate seat. Wiretapped phone calls revealed that he was planning on getting something in exchange for the seat. The former governor expressed desire to go so far as even auction off the seat in an expletive-packed recording.
His initial trial began in April 2009, and in June 2011, he was found guilty of 17 counts of corruption. Later that year, he was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison. However, the former governor got lucky when President Donald Trump commuted his prison sentence eight years in.
“I don’t know him very well, I’ve met him a couple of times, he was on for a short time on The Apprentice years ago, seemed like a very nice person, don’t know him, but he served eight years in jail, there’s a long time to go,” he said when Blagojevich was released in February 2020. Blagojevich appeared on the ninth season of Trump’s reality show.