Thursday, June 10, 2010

In The Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White

In The Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White
352 pages
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!


  1. Sounds like a very interesting life history - i am fascinated by life writing so thank so much for highlighting this one.


  2. This sounds interesting - although I love your line: "Occasionally, I felt that White got a little repetitious talking about himself" - sounds like many men I know! :--)

  3. Thanks for your insightful review, Lisa. I admit the draw for me to this book, if I did read it, would be the lives of the inmates and patients around him.

    As for the leprosy angle, Moloka'i is one of my favorite novels which deals with the topic of leprosy and I know so little outside of that about more modern treatment of individuals suffering from it.

  4. This sounds like such an amazing story! Too bad prison doesn't affect everyone like that.

  5. Very interesting life story. I think my husband may find this to be one that he would enjoy.

  6. This sounds like a very unique story, with an interesting perspective. Glad that you enjoyed it.

  7. Nice powerful book! It is quite sad watching the stigma associated with leper patients. I am glad that they teach us in school itself that lepers are not "untouchables", it really makes a difference!

  8. I had not yet heard of this book, but it does sound very interesting. I also have not read much about lepers, and I think that the dual storyline would really be intriguing to me. This was a great review, and your enthusiasm makes me want to go out and grab a copy for myself! Thanks!

  9. I LOVED your review on this one Lisa. Sounds like a book for me.

  10. I already have this one on my TBR list, but others may not.

    You are invited to add a link to your review to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon
    ( ). The Saturday Review happens every week, and it's a great place to find links to other bloggers' reviews.

  11. Sounds really interesting. I'm going to add this to my wishlist. Great review!

  12. Great review. I had thought this would be a good read but had no time to fit it in. Glad you liked it.

  13. Great review. I had thought this would be a good read but had no time to fit it in. Glad you liked it.

  14. It is crazy to me that leprosy is still around! I'm definitely going to have to read this book at some point - it sounds fascinating.

  15. I added this one to my TBR list a while back and then when it came up on tour I passed on it, because I wanted to just read it on my own and not for a tour. Weird, huh?

    The tale is fascinating to me. When I hear the term "leper colony" I always think of Dr. Moreau.