June 2, 2010

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White

I'm not usually a big reader of memoirs, but when the opportunity came up to review this book, I was really intrigued by the story.  In the Sanctuary of Outcasts relates the experiences of Neil White during his time at a federal prison in Carville, Louisiana.  Sentenced to eighteen months for kiting checks, White finds himself sharing a building with the last patients suffering from leprosy in the United States.  Color me ignorant, but I had absolutely no clue that people were still suffering from leprosy in the U.S. as late as the 90s.  This fact alone was enough to grab my interest in White's story, but the idea of housing these patients with convicted felons seemed to me to be just another dash of salt being added to the wounds of these afflicted souls.

White's story is not unusual in its inception.  Convicted of a crime motivated by greed and the desire to maintain an impressive persona, he is sent to what one fellow prisoner refers to as a "country club" of prisons, complete with a golf course, playground, and jogging track.  No bars on the windows, no locks on the doors.  In fact, White relates how he told his children that "Daddy is going to camp" as a way to explain his prolonged absence.  This memoir is not just another "I fought the law and the law won" story, however.  Neil White's story is not so much about him and his journey to prison, but more about the stories of the patients who called Carville their home.  The "outcasts" like Ella, Harry, and Jimmy have been cast out of society, set apart and kept isolation.  Some have heartbreaking stories of being hunted like animals because of their disease or having their newborn children taken from the birthing bed to be raised by another.  As he learns their stories, the wounds of the leprosy patients begin to disappear for White and he starts to realize that in fact they are not the outcasts at Carville.  He is.

This is a moving story, told in an honest, readable style.  White uses a conversational, sometime humorous tone, to tell his story interwoven with the story of the Carville residents.  At one point in his journey, White realized that he would no longer behave in a manner to seek the approval and praise of others, but I still praise the work his has done with this memoir.  He has honored those whom he once set out to exploit for his own gain.  In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is a witty, candid tale of redemption that kept me riveted from beginning to end.  I highly recommend it!  4 Stars.


4 comments:

  1. I have been keeping an eye on this book for a while. I'm glad that it is worth the read.

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  2. Hmm I never would've considered this book but it does look intriguing.

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  3. I would never have thought that leprosy was still around - who knew?! This sounds like a book I'd really enjoy - thanks for the great review.

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  4. I'm glad you found it helpful!

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