Feature

Author of the week: Wilbert Rideau

Rideau spent 44 years behind bars for killing a teller during a botched bank robbery. His new book, In the Place of Justice, provides a clear picture of day-to-day prison life.

Life outside prison still surprises Wilbert Rideau, said Dave Gilson in Mother Jones. Freed in 2005 after spending 44 years behind bars for killing a teller during a botched bank robbery, Rideau had to adjust first of all to a sudden loss of personal influence. Though he had only an eighth-grade education when he entered Louisiana’s Angola prison, Rideau eventually became the editor of the prison’s acclaimed magazine, publishing attention-grabbing exposés about the wrongdoings of both guards and fellow prisoners. Wardens began coming to him for ideas and advice. Rideau knew how to get things done, and enjoyed an almost predictable life. “Out here it’s totally different, totally a different ballgame,” he now says. “You can have the best-laid plans—and then your car doesn’t start.”

Rideau’s new book, In the Place of Justice, may provide a clearer picture of day-to-day prison life than any memoir before it, said Steve Weinberg in the San Francisco Chronicle. He says that the biggest misperception about prison life is that violence is rampant. Even though Angola was deservedly notorious when Rideau arrived, conflict was avoidable. “What most people don’t realize is that violence in prison is very targeted,” he says. “I was in the bloodiest prison in the nation and in 44 years I never had a single fistfight.” In fact, he’s been surprised by how much more “incivility” he sees on the outside. In prison, he says, “you’re kind of careful about what you say to others.”

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