Thursday, June 24, 2010
In The Sanctuary Of Outcasts by Neil White
Synopsis From Back Cover:
Daddy is going to camp. That's what I told my children. But it wasn't camp....
Neil White wanted only the best for those he loved and was willing to go to any lengths to provide it - which is how he ended up in a federal prison in rural Louisiana, serving eighteen months for bank fraud. But it was no ordinary prison. The beautiful, isolated colony in Carville, Louisiana, was also home to the last people in the continental United States disfigured by leprosy - a small circle of outcasts who had forged a tenacious, clandestine community, a fortress to repel the cruelty of the outside world. In this place rich with history, amid an unlikely mix of leprosy patients, nuns, and criminals, White's strange and compelling new life journey began.
I had first heard about this book while I was driving in my car listening to NPR, which is always on if I'm in the car. It was June 3. 2009 and it was sometime between 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM. I only know the time because it's the only time that The Diane Rehm Show is on here in Wichita. I remember sitting in my car and listening to the author talk about his experience in the prison as well as what landed him behind bars to begin with, and I was utterly fascinated by the story. I actually sat in the car until that hour was over, just so I wouldn't miss anything. I'm listening to the show now while I'm writing my review, you can click here if you are interested in listening to it, which I would advise anyone interested in this story to do so. So needless to say when I got a chance to read the book for myself, I grabbed it with both hands.
Now that I got that rather lengthy introduction out of the way I will get to what I thought of the book once I did get a chance to read it. In a few words, I loved it. This was a fascinating memoir into a short period of time in the author's life, that thankfully changed him for the better.
Neil White was a magazine publisher who was living the American dream. He had a loving wife, two adorable children, and a thriving business. He published various regional magazines serving the Gulf Coast. Little did anyone else know that the only thing keeping this "successful" business afloat was the fact that Neil was kiting checks between two checking accounts. Now he didn't know, or didn't want to know, that what he was doing was against the law and when he got caught, he had to pay the consequences. Those consequences sent him to the federal prison at Carville. What he did not realize was that Carville also served as the last leper colony in the United States.
What this book accounts is how Neil, who was initially scared of the patients he was sharing this space with, grew to accept these people without fear or suspicion. Through encounters with various patients Neil began to understand who they are as people, not as "lepers". They became friends and bonds of trust grew between patients and prisoners. Neil relates his story with humor, some of which is self effacing at times, which allows the reader to not only get to know him, but his fellow prisoners and the patients.
It was a pleasure to read how Neil grew as a person in prison and how he learned to see life in a new way. Through interacting with the patients and his fellow prisoners, Neil was finally able to understand that what he had done to those he hurt, including his family, was his fault. That the harm he caused was real and he needed to make amends. Through the friendships he built, he was able to see his life in a new way and when he got out of prison, he was able to take those lessons and build a new one for himself and his children.
I'm going to end this rather rambling review here, as there is so much I could talk about that if I don't end it now, I'll never stop. All I want to say is that I encourage everyone to read this book, that there is a lot all of us can learn from Neil and from those who suffer from Hansen's Disease (the more accepted name for leprosy).
I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this wonderful book.
To read more reviews of this book please visit the other stops on this tour.
To read more about Hansen's Disease and Carville, please visit The National Hansen's Disease Museum.