LA Lifer Rideau’s Autobiography: ‘Painfully Candid Memoir’


Author and history professor David Oshinsky reviews the new biography of convicted killer Wilbert Rideau for the New York Times. Convicted of the murder of a white bank teller in 1961, Rideau spent 44 years in prison, most of them at Angola in Louisiana, before being released. Oshinsky writes, “His painfully candid memoir, ‘In the Place of Justice,’ is indeed, as its subtitle promises, ‘a story of punishment and deliverance,’ told by a high school dropout who escaped Angola's electric chair to become an award-winning prison journalist. As such, Rideau is the rarest of American commodities – a man who exited a penitentiary in better shape than when he arrived.'”

While in prison, Rideau became a national celebrity, appearing on TV and radio and winning journalism's coveted George Polk Award. In 2005, the man Life magazine had featured as “The Most Rehabilitated Prisoner in America” was granted yet another trial. This time, the jury convicted Rideau of manslaughter, not first-degree murder, and the judge sentenced him to a term of 21 years, the maximum. “Because I had served more than double that,” he explains, “I was freed on the spot.” In the final chapter, Rideau writes poignantly of the simple blessings that await him each day. But it's clear that bitter memories linger as well. Looking back, he accuses the black community of abandoning him.

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