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Thirty years later, a top honor

After spending 44 years behind bars, former death row inmate Wilbert Rideau is set to receive Long Island University’s prestigious George Polk Award for journalism, which was awarded him 30 years ago.

After spending 44 years behind bars, former death row inmate Wilbert Rideau is set to receive Long Island University’s prestigious George Polk Award for journalism, which was awarded him 30 years ago.

Rideau earned the award, which he will collect on April 7, for his work as an editor of the prison magazine The Angolite while serving a life sentence. The honor, named after the CBS correspondent who was killed while covering the civil war in Greece in 1948, is bestowed annually by Long Island University and is one of the most highly regarded awards in journalism. Past recipients include Christiane Amanpour, Ed Bradley and Walter Cronkite.

“When I first won this award in 1980, I was on death row and didn’t understand what it meant,” Rideau told Metro from his home in Baton Rouge, La. “When I found out, it was incredibly humbling. It made me realize I’m really a writer.”

While in prison, he recalled, “I reached a point when I wanted to redeem myself for the horrible thing I had done. I wanted to do something that would gain me respect, so I started writing. I thought to myself, ‘Everyone says they don’t understand criminals,’ and I figured, I know myself and I know other inmates. I should write about that. My life was reduced to pen and paper.”

Rideau, who grew up in Southwest Louisiana, was convicted in 1961 of murdering a bank teller during a botched robbery. He was awarded a new trial in 2005 due to the systematic exclusion of African-Americans from the grand jury that indicted him in 1961. During that new trial, he was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to time served — and was released.

 
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