30.06.2011 Novi magazin 9

From the death penalty to a famous writer

From the death penalty to a famous writer
It’s quiet. Too much. The rain is whispering through an open window. The only sound you can hear is your heart pounding…I cut one of the bars with my nail to make sure I wasn’t deaf.

Night after night I stand at this very same place, looking at the same scenery from the second floor, week after week, month after month, year after year…after year… Nothing changes, except the rain. I came from that world; I was a part of it once.

But now it is foreign to me, it seems like a foreign country I read about. I don’t feel anything…I cannot find a connection with that world; I cannot imagine what it would be like to walk down one of those streets while the rain falls on my face. It was a long time ago…

I turn from the window and slowly walk towards the heavy, steal door…One, two, three, four, five…Turn…I go back. One, two, three…

And like that for 12 years in these five square meters in which those steps could fit. Twelve years on death row in the most notorious American prison, Angola, Louisiana.

More than a decade of loneliness, pinioned with 359 rivets which Wilbert Rideau counted numerous times, where he entered when he was 19 and spent in the company of an old mattress, a cardboard box filled with paper, a pen and a few books and cockroaches which came and went as they pleased

Rideau killed Julia Ferguson in 1961. He took her life and taking his was the only possible punishment. Black and white. Just like America in those days. Ingrained racism, with the deepest offspring in Louisiana, didn’t leave much room for some other option.

He killed a woman, but what’s worse – he, a black man, killed a white woman. Unlike many at that time, Rideau at least made it to the courtroom. He was lucky. AN there – the judges, the jury, the defense…All white.

And hundreds of white people that rushed the court wanting to judge him for themselves. The death penalty saved him from their lynch, as he says himself. The irony. Sometimes he is aware of the life in which he stayed with a strane mix of luck and irony.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: It has been half a century since a frustrated, lonesome teenager that hated himself and his life, left school and, in that futility, robbed a bank. He didn’t want to kill anybody just to get his hands on some money on that day in February of 1961.

He took three female workers of the bank with his as hostages, but when things took an unexpected turn, in complete panic he killed one.

He didn’t get a chance to say that at his first nor at other two trials he get as an appeal on the verdict. Only much, much later – when he was already famous and recognized and when people, strangers to him, asked for his acquittal (among them even Linda LaBranche, his future wife), the court changed his verdict to premeditated murder. For that the sentence is 21 years.

Since Rideau already served 44 years, he was released immediately. Still, there is a lot of people, also unknown to him, which have not reconciled with this decision, with the popularity he received and which has, by many opinions, made it possible for him to escape justice.

author: Aleksandra Ajdanic source: Novi magazin
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