Shortly after outgoing Gov. George Ryan's dramatic announcement Saturday that he would spare the lives of 167 inmates on Illinois's death row, Andre Jones, a convicted double-murderer who has faced a death sentence since 1980, telephoned his friend Jack Nordgaard, a retired Lutheran pastor who has been visiting condemned prisoners in the state for 20 years. Jones, 46, a short, slightly built man whose hair has begun to gray, was frightened.

"He said he doesn't know if he can do the rest of his life off of death row in a maximum-security institution," Nordgaard said. "It's just because you're always watching your back."

The convicted murderers whose sentences were commuted last weekend are no longer facing death, but for many of them, day-to-day life will be much rougher, and possibly more violent, according to people familiar with conditions in the state's prisons.

Isolated from each other and from the general prison population, Illinois's death row inmates have led a life at once more restricted, but also more physically secure, settled and sedate than that of thousands of other maximum-security prisoners.

On death row they have been confined behind bars 23 hours a day, deprived of work and educational programs and shackled hand and foot when ushered to meet visitors.

But they also have their own cells, meals delivered by guards, and reasonably good access to art supplies, reading material and telephones. Many are ministered to regularly by an array of churches, religious groups and organizations opposed to the death penalty. And virtually all enjoy the comfort of knowing that prison enemies cannot easily knife, beat, rape or intimidate them. Much of that will now be lost as they face life terms without parole in overcrowded, hellishly hot prisons.

"There is a kind of security in death row which is uncommon," Nordgaard said. "I mean, they'll have their lives, but those new lives are in a maximum-security prison, which I wouldn't want to be in for 24 hours, to tell you the truth."

The state's prison officials, caught off-guard by Ryan's blanket clemency, say it will take at least a month before they determine what to do with the inmates.

Many of the 94 formerly condemned men held at the 132-year-old Pontiac prison, 80 miles south of Chicago, are likely to be transferred to another institution, because Pontiac lacks facilities for ordinary maximum-security prisoners. But other death row inmates, such as the 59 at the 125-year-old Menard prison in the state's southern tip, could conceivably stay put -- but have to make room for cellmates in the 4-foot-by-11-foot chambers each has had to himself until now.

That would probably mean tighter restrictions on documents, books and other personal effects, which are generally limited in regular maximum-security units to one small box that fits underneath a bunk. On death row, inmates are allowed two boxes.

"Don't make the assumption the [death row] cells will be emptied out and we're putting these places in mothballs{ndash}maybe it'll create more space in the prison system," said Brian Fairchild, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections.

He acknowledged that for many of the inmates, transferring off death row may be an ordeal. "Look at it from an inmate's perspective," he said. "The best thing that can happen for an inmate is not to have a cellmate . . . all of a sudden having one after 10 or 15 years may be a big change."

In recent days, Fairchild said, prison authorities have doubled the number of psychiatrists and psychologists on duty in death row; they are on the alert for mood swings and to prevent suicides.

Fairchild said he expected some death row inmates, fearing for their lives once they are integrated into the general prison population, to seek protective custody. He also said all of them would undergo an orientation to prepare for life in the general prison population, much as brand-new prisoners do.

Illinois's death row inmates, about two-thirds of whom are black, have existed in a kind of suspended animation since Ryan, a Republican, imposed a moratorium on all executions in the state three years ago.

The moratorium jammed the wheels of capital punishment, which were already turning slowly; the average condemned prisoner has spent at least 10 years on death row. And the blanket commutation seemed to halt the process altogether, at least for now.

While many prosecutors say they will continue to seek the death penalty for the most heinous murders, some also acknowledge that the system is broken and discredited and needs fundamental legislative reforms. Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who was inaugurated Monday, said he will extend Illinois's moratorium on executions for the time being even as he criticized Ryan's commutations as wrong-headed.

For many of the inmates transferring from death row to a regular maximum-security regime, daily routines are about to change substantially. Rather than eating all their meals alone in their cells, they will take lunch and dinner in cafeterias with scores of other prisoners. Telephones will no longer be brought to their cells when they need to make a call; they'll have to line up for pay phones like other prisoners, sometimes for long waits.

However, many of them will have a good deal more freedom of movement. If maximum-security prisoners are well behaved, they may be eligible for work details that allow them to move around the prison, and GED courses in which they could work toward a high school diploma. When they receive visitors, they will not have to wear handcuffs and leg shackles.

A few of the inmates, possibly including three whose sentences were reduced to 40 years to match those of their co-defendants, could eventually be transferred to units where they would enjoy even greater liberty, said prison spokesman Fairchild. Conceivably, those three may at some point be eligible for parole if they have already served substantial portions of their 40-year sentences.

"The ability to hold a job is very important to many of them," said Tricia Teater, who has worked with death row inmates for years in her capacity as a Buddhist chaplain. "It's a way to contribute and stay active mentally and physically."

However, circumstances for some inmates may not change appreciably -- particularly those involved in scrapes with guards and other disciplinary incidents. They may be kept in what are known as "segregation units" at Pontiac and elsewhere, strictly regimented places where inmates are allowed no more liberty than on death row. And for all of the inmates, there will be the grim physical discomforts of life behind bars; Illinois's maximum-security institutions, lacking air conditioning, are often sweltering in the summer.

"Many of these people have become extremely contemplative -- you're facing the hangman's noose and you're sitting there all day," said Aviva Futorian who has made frequent visits to condemned prisons as an activist with the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty. "A lot of them have found they have a mind, have learned to read and write . . . They become more mental where they used to be, many of them, totally physical. Now they're going back to this physical world and that's causing a lot of anxiety. It's going to be dangerous for a lot them."

The formerly condemned men at Pontiac will likely be sent to a prison with more maximum-security cells.