Don Siegelman on life after prison, 'Let the past be the past. Look forward to the future'

Don Siegelman on life after prison, 'Let the past be the past. Look forward to the future'
(Source: Julie Rockett/WBRC)

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The last time we saw former Gov. Don Siegelman, he was leaving the hospital after having emergency heart surgery.

That was in February - today he's doing much better.

He spends his days finishing a book about his life ---joking he's had plenty of time to work on it. But he's also working on his son's first political campaign.

"My brother and I did our best to talk him out of it, but it didn't work but we're all behind him now," he laughed.

It's perhaps that sense of humor that kept Siegelman going after serving 6 years in prison.

"You have a choice of attitudes, and I prefer the one that I take which is let the past be the past and look forward to the future," he said.

That doesn't mean the past was easy - he still maintains his conviction and sentence were politically motivated.

"I had been touted as the one southern governor who could put together a successful challenge to George W. Bush," he said.

After serving one term, Siegelman ran for re-election in 2002 but lost by a narrow margin to Republican Bob Riley - that loss and attempts to run again he says were shrouded by political persecution.

Ending with him charged with accepting a bribe from businessman Richard Scrushy -- for a position on a state medical board.

The high-profile case played out with the two men tried together.

"They threw in Scrushy, which really made no sense except they thought this will increase our chances for a conviction," he said.

The conviction came - and both were sent to prison.

But nearly a year later, Siegelman got out on bond as he appealed his conviction - but in four years he was back in prison.

He said he tried to live a normal life while out on bond and didn't let the threat of prison time weigh on him.

"I did lead a normal life, normal as to what it had become, my brother and I worked daily on trying to reach members of Congress, national media."

Siegelman doesn't dwell on his time in prison, and he doesn't feel sorry for himself.

"The tough part for anybody that's in prison the prisoner learns to live with it, but the family members are the ones that are really hurt," he said. "Our children, grandchildren, parent - grandparents, wife - husband because they are the ones who are really suffering"

"The inmate has to focus on passing time getting each day behind you which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Making time is good because every day that passes you're one day closer to getting out but also every day that passes means you're one step closer to the end of your life"

A sober thought, for sure, but at the age of 70, he walked out of prison. The arrival back home met with cheers from loved ones and supporters.

Out of prison, but not totally free…at least not yet.

"I don't have my passport, of course, my Second Amendment rights, don't have my law license and can't travel out of Birmingham without asking permission from my probation officer," Siegelman said.

One thing Don Siegelman thought he didn't need to worry about was his health.

He says he's always worked out and took care of himself, but a doctor's appointment in February showed something very different.

"The doctor came out saying, 'If I were you, I wouldn't leave the hospital. You have 90 percent blockage. You're gonna have a heart attack, but when that happens you're gonna die,'" he said.

Siegelman made it through the surgery with no problems, except the fact he didn't tell his family about it before going into surgery.

"It just made no sense to me to tell people I was going into surgery," he said about his decision. "All they would do is come to the hospital where they couldn't see me and worry about me whether I'm going to come out of surgery alive or not, so why tell them?"

He says his family was not happy with his choice.

As we wrapped up our conversation, Siegelman told me one more story. This one about the chocolate lab he'd gotten his wife Lori before going to prison.

They'd wondered after being away for so long?  Would the family dog remember him?

"I cautiously approached the house and the door opened," Siegelman said. "He was jumping barking, tail wagging. I kneeled down and he licks me, and we go inside. Like two minutes later, Lori's cousin walks in, a woman he'd never seen, and he treats her exactly the same way. He was just happy to see anybody"

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