Photo by Linda LaBranche

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Wilbert Rideau

Wilbert Rideau was editor of The Angolite, a prison news magazine that during his tenure was nominated seven times for a National Magazine Award. While in prison, he was a correspondent for NPR’s Fresh Air; co-produced and narrated a radio documentary, “Tossing Away the Keys,” for NPR’s All Things Considered; served as correspondent for “In for Life” for ABC-TV’s “Day One”; and co-directed the Academy Award–nominated film The Farm: Angola, USA. He is the recipient of a George Polk Award and an American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award, among others. He was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship in 2007 and works as a consultant with the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. He lives in Louisiana.

Ten Things I Can’t Do Without
Having lived so much of my life in prison, some of it on death row or in solitary confinement, there is little that I can’t do without. Prison is a world of deprivation: material, physical, emotional. It is a harsh world, unsoftened by beauty or real friendships. To survive the prison experience intact, you must turn inward and draw upon reservoirs of strength you did not know existed within you. So, with the exception of #1, my list of ten is not things I cannot do without but things that I would not want to do without because they make my life full and whole or help me realize how blessed I am.

  1. Linda: my soldier, supporter, best friend, and wife, who worked tirelessly for my freedom.
  2. Our cats, from whom I learned that animals are thinking, feeling beings. I did not realize this before living with several of them.
  3. Flowers, which we plant in abundance in our yard, so beauty is always at hand.
  4. Squirrels, who frolic in the trees in our yard and are a pleasure to watch.
  5. The many variety of birds that live in or fly by our yard. To me they represent the joy of freedom.
  6. Books, particularly the stories of people who have overcome great obstacles.
  7. Homeless people, who remind me every day how fortunate I am to be able to spare a dollar.
  8. The elderly and infirm, who show me one possible future that awaits me and remind me not to waste one minute of my life.
  9. The capital defendants I work with, many of whom I am able to help and all of whom remind me that there but for the grace of God, go I.
  10. My work as writer and lecturer, which allows me to use what I learned in 44 years behind bars to educate the public, and in particular attorneys, about what life in prison is really like and what the people who live and work there are really like. This gives meaning and purpose to my existence.

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