I meet Wilbert Rideau at a hotel on Rampart Street, across from Armstrong Park. It is a sunny day, the weather is cool. I recognize him and his wife, Dr. Linda Labranche. They met while Rideau was still an inmate at Louisiana State Penitentiary—or “Angola”—where until 2005 he had been serving out a life sentence for nearly 44 years.
While inside Angola, Rideau became one of the most powerful men in the Louisiana Prison System on either side of the law. In 1975, 14 years after he was convicted of murder, he became editor of Angola’s prison magazine, The Angolite, and served in that capacity for 25 years with a single prescription from the warden: He could print anything he wanted, as long as it was true.
This was a revolutionary development—not only for prison journalism, but for what the public knows at all about the inner workings of prison life. Rideau and his associates wrote about violence, the prison economy, prison health and mental health care, death in prison—by execution and otherwise—and a slew of other topics never so closely or openly examined.