LIFE SENTENCES by Wilbert Rideau

LIFE SENTENCES

Rage and Survival Behind Bars

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Strong and disturbing investigative reporting, with a cruel twist: Rideau and Wikberg are both serving life sentences for murder, and do their reporting in The Angolite, the newspaper published by inmates at Louisiana's state prison at Angola. Drawn from the past 15 years or so of The Angolite--which Rideau, a former Death Row inmate, has edited since 1975--the 24 pieces collected here constitute a forceful insider-indictment of our prison system, comparable to the early work of Eldridge Cleaver or Jack Henry Abbott. The writing, much by Rideau, is skilled and the topics volatile--e.g., prison rape, analyzed by Rideau in his 1979 article ``The Sexual Jungle'': ``The act of rape in the ultramasculine world of prison constitutes the ultimate humiliation visited upon the male, the forcing of him to assume the role of a woman.'' Or the problem of long-term prisoners who, forgotten by the outside world and numbed to prison existence, languish their lives away behind bars--exposed in the unsigned and moving ``Conversations with the Dead.'' Expectedly, as a house organ, The Angolite doesn't offer balanced reporting: Little blame is assigned to cons, much to an increasingly--the authors say--retributive society; and some of the pieces here deal with relatively parochial subjects (e.g., the retirement of Angola's warden), while others read like simple filler (a short piece about the filming of a TV- movie at the prison). Still, articles on the desolation of dying of old age in prison, the history of methods of execution in America, and the degradation of life on Death Row more than compensate for the floss. As one writer points out here, the US ``possesses the highest confinement rate in the world''--making a passionate, intelligent, informed report like this, no matter its bias, important reading for all concerned with the state of American justice. (Photos--not seen.)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-8129-1987-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1992




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