Inmate Wilbert Rideau on Literacy Behind Bars

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Terry Gross speaks with Wilbert Rideau, an inmate serving a life term at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. As a special correspondent for Fresh Air, Rideau reports on various aspects of life, culture and rehabilitation at the penitentiary. In this segment, we focus on the issue of literacy, education programs and self-education at Angola.

We also speak with John Whitley, the warden at Angola; the prison librarian; and with another inmate who taught himself to read and write while in prison. These reports from prison have been arranged in cooperation with prison officials, who administer a number of outreach programs to educate the public about prison policies and rehabilitation efforts.

Rideau is an eighth grade dropout and taught himself to write while in prison. He is a well-known prison journalist, and the editor of The Angolite, the official prison newsmagazine. Rideau and the magazine have won a number of awards for journalism and public service, including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and the American Bar Association Silver Gavel for "outstanding contribution to public understanding of the American system of law and justice."

Rideau has also been awarded an official Certificate of Merit from the city of New Orleans for his "outstanding public service." Rideau was sentenced to death in 1961 for a murder, which occurred during a bank robbery. His sentence was commuted to life in l972, when the Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional.

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