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In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliveranceby Wilbert Rideau
Synopses & Reviews
It’s late, and raining. The buildings before me have been abandoned. Life has drained from the traffic arteries below. The wet pavement of empty Lake Charles streets and parking lots doubles the glare of street lamps and neon signs, intensifying the darkness.
It’s quiet. Profoundly so. Rain whispers against the open window a few feet away. The only other thing you can hear is your own heart, thumping. I’ve known men who could not stand this silence, but I’ve grown accustomed to it. I scratch a fingernail on one of the bars, to reassure myself I haven’t gone deaf. I’ve stood here many nights staring out my second- floor window at the same scene below, week after week, month after month, year after year . . . after year. Except for the rain, it never changes.
I came from that world, was once a part of it. But it’s strange to me now, like a foreign country I’ve only read about. I feel no love, no hate. What lies outside that window represents all of my soul’s yearnings: freedom, joy, home, love, friendship, satisfaction, peace, happiness. But I feel nothing as I look. To me it is inanimate, like a picture on a wall. I’m barred from that world and old memories no longer bridge the gap. I can’t relate to that world, any more than I can imagine what it would feel like to walk down one of those streets, the rain in my face. It’s been too long.
I turn my attention to squashing my cigarette butt in the ashtray, then look around my cell. This is my reality. Solitude. Four walls, graygreen, drab, and foreboding. Three of steel and one of bars, held together by 358 rivets. Seven feet wide, nine feet long. About the size of an average bathroom or— and my mind leaps at this— the size of four tombs, only taller. I, the living dead, have need of a few essentials that the physically dead no longer require— commode, shower, face bowl, bunk. A sleazy old mattress, worn to thinness. On the floor in a corner, a cardboard box that contains all my worldly possessions—a writing tablet, a pen, and two changes of underwear. The mattress, the box, and I are the only things not bolted down, except the cockroaches that come and go from the drain in the floor and scurry around in the shower. This is my life, every minute of the year. I’m buried alive. But I’m the only person for whom that fact has meaning, who feels it, so it’s immaterial.
My eyes return to the open window across the catwalk outside the bars. A block away, twin lights appear as a car cautiously finds its way down the rain- slicked street. A gust of wind whips at me, ice on its lash. I look at my gray, jail- issued coveralls hanging on the wall hook. I should put them on to be warmer, but I don’t. After what I’ve been through, why should I cringe before a simple thing like cold? Strength and the spirit of contest surge through me. This is a challenge, and knowing that the cold cannot defeat me gives me pride. I remain in my T- shirt and shorts, unyielding, feeling strong and powerful. That’s what I’ve been reduced to.
It’s hard to believe that I once experienced a life in that world outside my window. Would I even be able to recognize the neighborhood I grew up in? Are kids playing hooky still shooting craps on those old tombs? Is Old Man Martello still peddling ciga
Rideau brings to vivid life the world of the infamous Angola penitentiary and his long struggle for justice, giving his readers a searing expose of the failures of our legal system framed within his own dramatic tale of how he found meaning, purpose, andhope in prison.
From Wilbert Rideau, the award-winning journalist who spent forty-four years in Louisiana prisons working against unimaginable odds to redeem himself, the story of a remarkable life: a crime, its punishment, and ultimate triumph.
After killing a woman in a moment of panic following a botched bank robbery, Rideau, denied a fair trial, was improperly sentenced to death at the age of nineteen. After more than a decade on death row, his sentence was amended to life imprisonment, and he joined the inmate population of the infamous Angola penitentiary. Soon Rideau became editor of the prison newsmagazine The Angolite, which under his leadership became an uncensored, daring, and crusading journal instrumental in reforming the violent prison and the corrupt Louisiana justice system.
With the same incisive feel for detail that brought Rideau great critical acclaim, here he brings to vivid life the world of the prison through the power of his pen. We see Angola’s unique culture, encompassing not only rivalries, sexual slavery, ingrained racism, and daily, soul-killing injustices but also acts of courage and decency by keeper and kept alike. As we relive Rideau’s remarkable rehabilitation—he lived a more productive life in prison than do most outside—we also witness his long struggle for justice.
In the Place of Justice goes far beyond the confines of a prison memoir, giving us a searing exposé of the failures of our legal system framed within the dramatic tale of a man who found meaning, purpose, and hope in prison. This is a deeply moving, eloquent, and inspirational story about perseverance, unexpected friendships and love, and the possibility that good can be forged under any circumstances.
About the Author
Wilbert Rideau was editor of The Angolite, which was nominated for seven national magazine awards. While in prison, he was a correspondent for NPR’s Fresh Air; co-produced and narrated a documentary, “Tossing Away the Keys,” for NPR’s All Things Considered; collaborated on “In for Life” for ABC-TV’s Day One; and codirected the Academy Award–nominated film The Farm: Angola, USA. He is the recipient of a George Polk Award and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, among others. He was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship in 2007 and has worked as a consultant with the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. He lives in Louisiana.
Table of Contents
Ruination, 1942-1961 — Tribulation, 1962-1970 — Solitary, January 1972 — The jungle, 1973-1975 — Mentor, 1976 — Crackdown, 1976 — Truth behind bars, 1977-1981 — Disillusion, 1981-1986 — Soldiering on, 1986-1990 — Hope, 1990-1994 — Censorship, 1995-2001 — Behind enemy lines, 2001-2005 — Deliverance, 2005 — Heaven, 2005.
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