Insight with Wilbert Rideau: In the Place of Justice

Talk January 12, 2011 7:00 PM


In 1961 Wilbert Rideau was a nineteen year old African-American living in Louisiana, the deep south of segregated America. An eighth-grade dropout despaired by the dead-end and small-town future his life held for him he set out to rob a local bank. The robbery went very wrong and lead to Rideau killing a young white female bank teller, he was arrested and gave a full confession as an angry white mob gathered outside chanting ‘kill that nigger’. He was sentenced to death row.

The forty four years he spent behind bars form an extraordinary story through decades of racial unrest and monumental change, of how Rideau overcame insurmountable odds to redeem himself and to later be described as ‘the most rehabilitated prisoner in the country’.

He went on to edit the prison news magazine The Angolite the first prison publication to be nominated for a National Magazine Award. It was nominated seven times under his editorship. He also co-directed the documentary The Farm, which was nominated for an Oscar. He worked with prisoners and officers to improve the lives of his fellow inmates, lecturing and co-writing a prison text book on how to manage prisoners and meeting with disadvantaged groups to speak about prison life. Yet in spite of his tremendous efforts Rideau remained behind bars, whereas many with longer prison sentences and worse prison records were released sooner.

With the help of his wife Linda Labranche, Rideau’s murder conviction was reversed a third time in 2000 and he was found guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter in January 2005. Award winning journalist Wilbert Rideau will be joining us at the Frontline Club in conversation with Afua Hirsch, the Guardian’s legal affairs correspondent to recount his extraordinary story and the work he now does educating people about the realities of the world behind bars.