In the Place of Justice
A Story of Punishment and Deliverance
By Wilbert Rideau
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307264817, 384pp.)
Publication Date: April 27, 2010
List Price: $26.95*
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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.
Wilbert Rideau was editor of The Angolite, a prison newsmagazine that during his tenure was nominated seven times for a National Magazine Award. While in prison, he was a correspondent for NPR’s Fresh Air; coproduced and narrated a radio 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 works as a consultant with the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. He lives in Louisiana.
Wilbert Rideau went to prison in 1961 at the age of 19 for killing a woman during a bungled bank robbery. Prison changed him. He became the editor of the award-winning prison magazine The Angolite and was released with time served in 2005. His new memoir, In the Place of Justice, describes his 44 years behind bars. More at NPR.org
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“Perhaps no book written by an inmate has ever conveyed so much factual and emotional information about day-to-day prison life.”
-Best Books of 2010, San Francisco Chronicle
“If years in solitary confinement and on death row shaped and refined the young killer, Wilbert Rideau, it can surely be said that Rideau did as much for the prison that held him longest, the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. This is a breathtaking and, ultimately, triumphant story of rehabilitation through endurance and courageous journalism. It is also a searing indictment of a broken, corrupt penal system that does far more damage than good to our society as a whole. This is an extraordinary book.”
“To hold in your hand a book like this is a small miracle. That is not to say that Wilbert Rideau is a saint. But it is to assert that what he has accomplished is the kind of thing to make all of us take notice: Rideau, a ninth-grade dropout, is one of the standout journalists of his generation, and probably the best prison journalist ever, anywhere. Few who start so awfully make so much out of their lives. This book is a passage through that life, starting with his crime, but also it is a passage through the American prison system of the past half-century. Both are presented here in a way that is sober, startling, and—in the case of the Louisiana's justice system—enraging. Rideau's endurance and strength of spirit are an amazement, models for all humankind. I found his story to be utterly gripping and it will not be giving anything away to say that I have not read such a happy ending in a long, long time."
“Engrossing, searing, and often heart-rending, this stunning narrative is ultimately about transcendence: how Wilbert Rideau overcame childhood misery, perversions of justice, and the darkness of imprisonment to become the rare man who could write such a book. The rewards of The Place of Justice involve much more than losing oneself in this wonderfully rendered life—it’s the way you feel once the last page is turned. Unforgettable.”
-Richard North Patterson
“Wilbert Rideau kept his cool for 44 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, put up with racial bias and severe injustices, won national awards editing the prison newsmagazine, and has written a book that moves without letup to an ending that’s alive with suspense.”
“A series of stunning journalistic revelations . . . Quite simply, no prison memoir in recent memory contains prose as deft or as riveting.”
-David Friend, Vanity Fair
“Candid . . . Poignant . . . Rideau is the rarest of American commodities—a man who exited a penitentiary in better shape than when he arrived.”
-David Oshinsky, The New York Times Book Review
“A richly detailed [and] all too rare look at life behind bars . . . Rideau’s account portrays a world that surprisingly mirrors our own, involving complicated power relations, functional and dysfunctional bureaucracies, and deep human ties of love and fealty . . . Books like Rideau’s provide a sympathetic glimpse into the world that most Americans have found it convenient to ignore.”
-David Cole, The New York Review of Books
“Incisive . . . Rideau commits a fair amount of real journalism in this memoir. That is, he names names—wardens, fellow prisoners, guards—and tells stories as straightforwardly as he can. His account of life in Angola is an important one . . . The ending of In the Place of Justice is as low-key, but as emotional, as any words I’ve read in a long time.”
-Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Gripping . . . [Wilbert Rideau] was left to rot but instead built an extraordinary career.”
-Robert Perkinson, The Nation
“Riveting . . . Amazing . . . The picture of prison life painted by Rideau isn’t the one portrayed in many movies. There is violence and brutality, especially for the weak . . . But Rideau mostly shows that prison is a place where people are still living their lives . . . Amazingly, after the fear, the periods of isolation, and the hate he experienced, Rideau was able to lead a productive life and help others. Now he has provided a wonderful chance to share his remarkable life.”
-Mary Foster, Associated Press
“Intimate . . . Even if the memoir were devoid of such thematic relevance, Rideau’s sheer writing talent would propel In the Place of Justice to the status of a masterpiece in the realm of autobiographies. As it stands, the book already possesses the unique quality of being able to transform the inside perspective of a potentially demonized societal outsider into the objective opinion of an individual who simply refuses to ignore the value within.”
-Lance Hicks, The Anniston Star (Alabama)
“Searing, suspenseful, stomach-churning and soul-stirring, In the Place of Justice is a sobering indictment of the criminal justice and penal systems in Louisiana over the past half century—and testimony to the triumph of the human spirit.”
-Glenn C. Altschuler, Tulsa World
“Fascinating and inspiring . . . This book is a gift to all of us in so many ways. It will serve as a valuable primary source for scholars of the prison and court systems of this country. It will hopefully inform every voter and every politician or political politician who reads it. But first and foremost, it provides an enormously satisfying emotional and intellectual experience as Rideau weaves meaning into what would seem the most threadbare of situations.”
-Patricia Black, BookPage
“Uplifting . . . [Especially] his self-reclamation through tough, committed journalism in an unpropitious setting . . . Rideau’s story is a compelling reminder that rehabilitation should be the focus of a penal system.”
“Unlike most prison memoirs, Rideau does not dwell on the sensational nature of his crime and instead tells his tale factually in the mellow and precise tone of an intellectual. His superhuman patience and insistence on willing his freedom through legal means are inspirational. Readers of all kinds will appreciate his large heart and thoughtful insights into the machinations of the criminal-justice system in America.”