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Former Death Row Inmate Finally to Receive His George Polk Award — Three Decades After Winning It

Wilbert Rideau spent 44 years behind bars, earning Long Island University’s prestigious
journalism honor while working as editor of his prison magazine


Brian Harmon,Director of Public Relations
Brooklyn Campus,
Long Island University
(718) 488-1418

Brooklyn, N.Y. - Wilbert Rideau - called "the most rehabilitated prisoner in America" by Life magazine - will formally receive his 1979 George Polk Award from Long Island University on April 7, 2011. He will be honored alongside the 2010 Polk Award recipients at the 62nd Annual George Polk Awards Luncheon.

Rideau earned the George Polk Award for Special Interest Reporting while serving a life sentence at a state penitentiary in Angola, La. As editor of the prison magazine, The Angolite, Rideau’s extraordinary articles delivered an honest and forceful look at life behind bars, a glimpse that Polk Award judges 31 years ago deemed “not for the faint of heart.”

George Polk Awards Curator John Darnton will present the award to Rideau during the April 7 luncheon at The Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. The University will announce the afternoon’s other honorees, the winners of the 2010 George Polk Awards, on February 22, 2011.

“When Mr. Rideau won the George Polk Award in 1980, it was given to him in absentia. We are pleased that he is finally able to accept it in person,” Darnton said. “He is one of the recipients we are most proud of.

“He personified the spirit of intrepid reporting, turning a searchlight upon events hidden behind prison walls far from public consciousness. His publication was responsible for major exposés on brutality and sexual violence behind bars.”

Rideau, who grew up in southwest Louisiana, was 19 when he was convicted in 1961 by an all-white, all-male jury of murdering a bank teller in the aftermath of a robbery earlier that year. He spent 12 years on death row.

Rideau was awarded a new trial in 2005 because of the systematic exclusion of blacks from the grand jury that indicted him in 1961. In the 2005 trial, a racially mixed jury found him guilty of manslaughter and not murder. Following the verdict, he was sentenced to time served and released.

During his time in jail, Rideau’s writing and editing talents garnered numerous journalism awards, including the Polk, which he shared with his associate editor, fellow prisoner Billy Sinclair. Rideau, the first African-American editor of a prison news publication, successfully fought to make The Angolite the first prison news outlet that was not subject to censorship. He also was permitted to lecture at universities across Louisiana about journalism and the justice system.

In 1998, Rideau co-directed a documentary, “The Farm: Angola, USA,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award. Since his release from prison, Rideau has continued to lecture about journalism, the justice system and life behind bars. His critically acclaimed autobiography, “In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance,” was published last year by Random House.

The George Polk Awards in Journalism are conferred annually to honor special achievement in journalism, with a premium placed on investigative and enterprise reporting. They were established in 1949 by Long Island University to commemorate Polk, a CBS correspondent murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war.

George Polk Awards
Ranked among America's most coveted journalism honors, the George Polk Awards have been administered by Long Island University since 1949.They memorialize CBS correspondent George W. Polk, who was slain covering the civil war in Greece in 1948. A committee of jurors made up of University faculty members and alumni select the winners from entries submitted by journalists and news organizations as well as nominations made by a panel of journalists and editors, including a number of former winners.

About Long Island University
In its ninth decade of providing access to the American dream through excellence in higher education, Long Island University is a multicampus, diverse, doctoral institution of higher learning. One of the largest and most comprehensive private universities in the country, Long Island University offers more than 560 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs and certificates, and educates over 27,000* students in degree-credit and continuing education programs in Brooklyn, Brookville (C.W. Post), Brentwood, Riverhead, Rockland and Westchester. The Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences prepares students for successful careers in the fields of pharmacy and health care. The University’s Global College provides a wide range of study abroad options at overseas centers in China, Costa Rica and India, and through program offerings in Australia, Taiwan, Thailand and Turkey.  Long Island University’s more than 600 full-time faculty members provide outstanding instruction, which is supplemented by internships and cooperative education opportunities. The accomplishments of more than 178,000 living alumni are a testament to the success of its mission – providing the highest level of education to people from all walks of life. The University’s NCAA Division I and II athletic teams, nationally renowned George Polk Awards in journalism and Tilles Center for the Performing Arts provide enrichment for students and the community.
*This number includes high school students enrolled in one or more degree-credit courses.

The Brooklyn Campus is distinguished by…
dynamic curricula reflecting the great urban community it serves. Distinctive programs encompass the arts and media, the natural sciences, business, social policy, urban education, the health professions and pharmacy, and include the Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, the Ph.D. in Pharmaceutics, the D.P.T. in Physical Therapy and the Pharm.D. in Pharmacy. A vibrant urban oasis in downtown Brooklyn, this diverse and thriving campus offers academic excellence, personalized attention, small class size and flexible course schedules. In 2006, a $45-million Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center was opened to serve the Campus and the surrounding community. In 2007, the Cyber Café was launched, providing a high-tech hot spot for students and faculty members to meet and eat.

Posted 02/07/2011

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