Ex-Governor Talks From Prison

Former Louisiana governor, Edwin Edwards, in prison CBS

Former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards—who believed in letting the good times roll no matter what, has given CBS News his first interview since going to prison after being convicted on corruption charges.

From behind the fences of a federal prison, the smooth-talking, four-term governor remains as blunt as ever, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan.

"They take away everything from you that's important, except breath itself," says Edwards.

And even from prison, Edwards is a man with a message.

"To my critics out there, I want them to know that they're getting what they wanted, I'm suffering. But to my friends, I want them to know I can handle it," he says.

He was known as the "Cajun Prince," a silver-haired, unapologetic gambler and womanizer with as much charm as color.

But he also had his demons. Entering a court house prior to his conviction, Edwards was asked if he had anything to hide. "Oh yes, but nothing to do with this investigation," he said.

In the 16 years he was Louisiana's governor, he dodged two dozen Grand Jury investigations and was acquitted in two federal trials.

He took none of it seriously, and was once so arrogant he even arrived at the courthouse in a horse drawn buggy.

Edwards told Cowan he believes he was sentenced unfairly.

"I have to just say frankly I never did think what I did justified a ten-year prison sentence, and most people in Louisiana feel the same way," he says.

And the 100,000 signatures on a state-wide petition to get him out of prison early seem to prove that assertion.

"I think right now, if he could be placed on the ballot for the governor's race, I think he would make the run-off," says friend Ed Powell.

At the Chicken Shack restaurant in Baton Rouge, customers line up to sign the petition.

"He's taking a big long fall and I don't think it's fair," says one woman. "I'm not saying the man was perfect, but I just don't feel like he should be locked up at this point in his life."

But Edwards also has some detractors.

"What he did was illegal, and he's in jail. And he should be," says one Louisiana resident.

This month marks the end of Edwards' first year in prison. If the petition drive is not successful, he has at least seven and a half more, meaning he won't walk out of these gates until he's 84 years old.

"I'll survive, I'll live to walk out of here," says Edwards. "I don't think I deserve it. But hell, I've gotten a lot of good things I didn't deserve."

Forgiveness, he says, is a rare visitor behind the prison fences. But back on the Bayou he knows it's different. A comfort to a man who never claimed to be an angel, but never thought he'd pay for his deals with the devil.
  • Lauren Johnston

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