IN THE SANCTUARY OF OUTCASTS by Neil White

IN THE SANCTUARY OF OUTCASTS

A Memoir
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An ex-con gains wisdom after doing time at a prison doubling as the last leper colony in America.

White’s trouble began when he started kiting checks for his newspaper business, the Oxford Times. Investor confidence misled him into proliferating more illicit activities. After surviving a bankruptcy, he began to assemble a “media dynasty” when an audit by the FDIC resulted in a conviction of bank fraud in 1992. Sentenced to Louisiana’s Carville minimum-security prison, he left behind wife Linda and two young children in Mississippi. While at Carville, White became educated on the damaging stigma of leprosy—now more commonly referred to as Hansen’s disease—since the prison also houses a leper colony. With felons integrated alongside the sick, the author admits to being initially repulsed (“I didn’t want to breathe the air”) but soon discovered how the afflicted live out their lives not only with misshapen or missing limbs that seemingly “disappear” from their bodies, but “plagued by lore, innuendo, and rumor” by the outside world. Dismissing rules against fraternization, White befriended Ella, a spunky African-American woman, wheelchair-bound with nearly 70 years spent at Carville. Initial visits from his wife and children proved strained, confusing and painful; as the months progressed, the family’s financial situation became dire as well. White recounts his courtship of Linda (“just about perfect”), their marriage and the lies and deception that destroyed their family. After much speculation about whether his marriage would survive the prison term—it didn’t—White realized that as a Carville inmate, he’d become just as much of an outcast as the leprosy patients. Those harsh realities are leavened with tender, humorous asides derived from the many dynamic Carville residents he encountered before his surprising release one year later.

An earnest chronicle written with equal parts enlightenment and atonement.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-06-135160-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2009