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Metro

Following Death Row, An Award for Prison Journalist

by
Christy Smith-Sloman

After spending 44 years behind bars Wilbert Rideau will finally stand in to receive Long Island University’s prestigious George Polk Award for journalism today in a midtown Manhattan hotel.(Photo: LINDA LABRANCHE)

After spending 44 years behind bars for murdering a bank teller during a botched robbery in 1961, Wilbert Rideau will finally stand in to receive Long Island University’s prestigious George Polk Award for journalism today in a midtown Manhattan hotel.

Rideau won the award in 1980, while on death row, for his work as an editor of the prison magazine “The Angolite,” which provided a brutally honest look at life in one of America’s most notorious prisons, Angola maximum-security penitentiary in Louisiana.

While he was editor, Rideau exposed abuse by the guards and sexual slavery among the inmates at Angola.

From behind bars, he became a correspondent for NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

“I was as low as a man could get,” Rideau recalled his prison days to Metro. “My days and nights were spent in a cell so small I could barely stretch my legs.”

“My life was reduced to pen and paper,”?he said.

In 2005, Rideau was awarded a new trial due to the systematic exclusion of African-Americans from the first jury that indicted him. During the new trial, evidence was presented that reduced his sentence to manslaughter and he was released that same year for time served.

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