Published June 2010 by Harper Collins Publishers
Source: TLC Book Tours and the publisher
Neil White was a man who had been raised all his life with the idea that he was going to do great things. When he was a little boy, his life goal was to do something, anything, to get his name in the Guinness Book of World Records. In college he studied journalism and when he got out, he started a small newspaper in the small Mississippi town he had grown up in. He prided himself on being a thorn in the side of the other newspaper in town - well-written articles, court records, going after the big guy. But along the way, the good he was doing got caught up with his ambition and hampered by his inability to be fiscally responsible. He soon found himself in trouble with the bank and in financial ruin at the paper. So he did what any responsible young man would do. He moved to a larger city with his family and started a magazine, solely with the goal of making a lot of money. He lived a lavish lifestyle, his magazine empire expanded and his inability to balance finances also continued. Until one day he found himself owing three-quarters of a million dollars to two different banks, money had has kited to make payroll and pay off other debts. This time he was out of people that would bail him out and he found himself with an 18 month sentence at the Federal Prison in Carville, Louisiana.
When White arrived at Carville, he was surprised to find that there were no doors on the cells, no fences around the perimeter of the facility and his uniforms were wrinkled and cologne was a banned substance. Oh yeah...Carville was also home to the only remaining leprosarium in the United States. Also the prisoners were not to have direct contact with the victims of leprosy, they were also in very immediate contact with them.
The first time White passed one of the patients in a hallway, he held his breath as he went past, then breathed through his shirt until he could get into the fresh air. He was mortified by the idea of any actual physical contact with the patients. But when an idea hatched into White's head that he could use the time in the prison to do research for an "undercover" expose on the prison (all the while pretending he wasn't actually a prisoner), he decided he would start interviewing inmates and patients alike. Getting to know these people made White take a good look at the person he was and what he wanted from his life when he got out.
This book is much more than a memoir about White's rise, fall and time in prison. In fact, it is every bit as much a story about the people that he met while there: Doc, his roommate who spent all of his time reading medical journals so that he could develop a new get-rich medical treatment when he was released; Link, an uneducated inmate with a wicked sense of humor who gave White the nickname "Clark Kent;" and Ella, a wheel-chair bound woman who had been brought to the colony as a young girl and who became White's best friend and and something of a spiritual mentor.
White's writing style is conversational and straightforward. He doesn't sugarcoat the crimes of any of the convicts, including his own, but he makes the reader see them as real, flawed people. He combines humor with the sadness of the patient's stories and gives the history of the facility without ever sounding preachy. White used his time in the prison library to research Carville and clearly knows what he is talking about but doesn't weigh the book down with it.
"The plantation sat in disrepair, unoccupied for thirty years, before the State of Louisiana leased the land in 1894. The 360-acre plot, along with a decaying manor house and slave quarters, was then designated as the Louisiana Leper Home. After that, all lepers in Louisiana were sent to the remote colony. The geography was perfect for outcasts. The plantation was virtually impossible to reach by land...In the early days, doctors and nurses were reluctant to come to the home. There was no running water, little sanitation, and no budget for improvement. The first residents shared the buildings with snakes and bats."It seemed that very little had changed about attitudes toward leprosy sufferers since the time of the Bible. To this day, the cause of leprosy is unknown, it is unknown exactly how it spreads and there is no vaccine. It is hardly surprising, I suppose, that people would be so frightened by it, seeing what can happen to those afflicted. But reading the stories about the people that were sent to Carville is heart wrenching.
Occasionally, I felt that White got a little repetitious talking about himself and, interestingly, I thought the weakest part of the book was when White described his then wife, Linda. It seemed to be easier for him to describe the flawed appearances of the victims of leprosy than the beauty of this woman.
I couldn't put this book down and read it in just a couple of days; I was so caught up in the characters and the history. I thought White did a great job of taking us through his personal growth and the change in his attitude about his fellow inmates and the patients.
To learn more about Neil White, check out his website. To browse inside the book, click here.
And, for more opinions on the book, read the rest of the reviews at:
Wednesday, June 2nd: Book Nook Club
Wednesday, June 9th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Monday, June 14th: Heart 2 Heart
Thursday, June 17th: Tales of a Capricious Reader
Tuesday, June 22nd: lit*chick
Wednesday, June 23rd: Lost in Books
Thursday, June 24th: Wordsmithonia
Monday, June 28th: Michelle’s Masterful Musings
Tuesday, June 29th: Chocolate & Croissants
Wednesday, June 30th: A Bookshelf Monstrosity
Thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!