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Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir by Neil White

A profound book. Well-written and tugs at the heart.

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is a memoir of a magazine and newspaper publisher who was sentenced to a minimum security prison for band fraud (he was "kiting" checks to make payroll, grow the business and buy fancy digs for the corporate offices). The prison he was sent to, however, is not your typical prison. Carville serves as both a minimum security prison and the last federal leper colony in the United States.

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is a title with a double-entendre. At one level it is a sanctuary where the outcasts are kept away from the outside. A sanctuary in which the victims of leprosy can receive treatment and not be "different" from everyone else. The author is literally staying in their physical sanctuary. But, in the case of the author, being in The Sanctuary of Outcasts is more than this. He is under the care of the lepers. He learns from them. They teach him humility and taking life as it comes. He learns what is really important and the value of human connection. Calling them his friends would presume too much. They become his mentors by their examples and the few moments of humanity that can be passed between prisoners and patients. He absorbs what they teach with a passion.

Neil White at Carville Prison
The community that is created in Carville between these two groups that society's outcasts is unique and fragile. The federal prisoners are a volatile group and the leprosy patients are not confined to the facility - they are voluntary residents. This balance between freedom and confinement proves difficult for the government to manage and, in the end, the tenuous relationship ends as the book ends, giving it sort of a fairy tale quality.

A unique book and one of the best that I have read this year.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir by Neil White.

Highly recommended.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on September 10, 2009.

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