Former media mogul Conrad Black and his wife Barbara Amiel smile as he arrives at his home in Toronto, May 4, 2012. Black was released from a minimum security prison in Miami, Florida and processed by immigrations officials before returning to Canada after serving his sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice.
Credits: REUTERS/MARK BLINCH
MIAMI -- For a guy who is not a Canadian, he sure looked happy to be back in Canada.
It's not clear if Lord Conrad Black of Crossharbour kissed the ground at his Park Lane Circle estate in Toronto, but he certainly went out and savoured every part of those grounds.
In fact, the first thing he did was take a stroll with wife Barbara Amiel and their dogs.
And there were no guns, handcuffs or barbed wire to be seen anywhere.
"There's no better taste of freedom than being able to come back after all of that time and be able to have dinner with your wife," said lawyer Steven Skurka, whose book "Tilted" makes the argument that the former Hollinger boss was railroaded in his fraud case in Chicago.
That sent him down the river for 39 months. On Friday, federal officials here whisked him out of the pen, processed him and them put him on a $6,000-an-hour chartered corporate jet heading north.
"It was nice to see that smile on both of their faces," said Skurka.
So what did they have for dinner on his first night, a free man after serving two stints behind bars?
"Fresh fish," joked comedian Mike Bullard, referring to the jailhouse slang term for new prisoners.
If Black, who showed a touch of humour and sarcasm in many columns he wrote for the National Post from prison, is in a laughing mood, Bullard has a bunch of zingers ready to revenge the former media baron when he performs at Yuk Yuks comedy club Saturday night.
"I don't mind if he comes back to Canada as long as he changes his name to Ex-Con-rad Black," teased Bullard. "The fact that he wrote a book in prison is a real accomplishment because it must be hard to type on a laptop standing with your back to the wall."
So there can be laughs about this now.
However, the last six years of legal woes and incarceration have been a nightmare for Black.
But Conrad Black in 2012 is far different than Black was prior to this chapter of his fascinating life.
This man was once the king of the sneering zinger.
On journalists he once wrote: "My experience with journalists authorizes me to record that a very large number of them are ignorant, lazy, opinionated, intellectually dishonest and inadequately supervised. The 'profession' is heavily cluttered with abrasive youngsters who substitute 'commitment' for insight and, to a lesser extent, with aged hacks toiling through a miasma of mounting decrepitude. Alcoholism is endemic in both groups."
He wasn't completely wrong, and yet when he was in all of this trouble, the once head of a media empire pleaded, "I urge you, no matter how addicted you are to representing me as having been shamed, disgraced and chased out as a scoundrel, to contemplate the possibility that there's just a chance that I might be innocent. As time will prove, I am."
On journalists, in a 1989 Toronto Sun column: The "swarming, grunting masses of jackals calling themselves 'investigative journalists.'"
He was also keen to prove all of his detractors wrong when it came to the matter of his longevity.
"It will startle and disappoint an entire burgeoning industry of pundits, eulogists and curio-vendors, but I'm far from dead." Black elaborated: "When everyone is finished dancing on my grave, they may be disconcerted to find I am not in it."
One hopes the cantankerous Black doesn't disappear completely. When he gave us all the finger in Chicago, what he was giving us was gold.
The truth is, though, he softened in prison and spent a bulk of the time not only helping people but seeing how the other half lives. He had to share a cell and space with real human beings, in the now and not in theory on a spreadsheet.
He found, suddenly, he had something in common with the poor, addicted or illiterate. They shared a loss of freedom.
And he was always a man about it.
As he said last year, "I never ask for mercy and seek no one's sympathy. I would never, as was once needlessly feared in this court, be a fugitive from justice in this country, only a seeker of it."
Now it's a country he hopes to one day, once again, become a citizen of.
His legacy won't be his wealth or business acumen or even surviving prison. It will be what he did inside and how he applied to help people post that experience.
That chapter has yet to be written. For Conrad Black, now back at his Toronto home, it starts today.