In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir

by Neil White

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"A remarkable story of a young man's loss of everything he deemed important, and his ultimate discovery that redemption can be taught by society's most dreaded outcasts." —John Grisham

"Hilarious, astonishing, and deeply moving." —John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

The emotional, incredible true story of Neil White, a man who discovers the secret to happiness, leading a fulfilling life, and the importance of fatherhood in the most unlikely of places—the last leper colony in the continental United States. In the words of Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler (A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain), White is “a splendid writer,” and In the Sanctuary of Outcasts “a book that will endure.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061885075
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/02/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 126,010
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Neil White is the former publisher of New Orleans Magazine, Coast magazine, and Coast Business Journal. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi, where he owns a small publishing company. This is his first book.

Read an Excerpt

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts
A Memoir

Chapter One

Daddy is going to camp. That's what I told my children. A child psychologist suggested it. "Words like prison and jail conjure up dangerous images for children," she explained.

But it wasn't camp. It was prison.

"I'm Neil White," I said, introducing myself to the man in the guardhouse. I smiled. "Here to self-surrender."

The guard looked at his clipboard, then at my leather bag, then at his watch. "You're forty-five minutes early."

"Yes, sir," I said, standing tall, certain my punctuality would demonstrate that I was not your typical prisoner. The guard pointed to a concrete bench next to the guardhouse and told me to wait.

The grounds were orderly and beautiful. Ancient live oaks, their gnarled arms twisting without direction, lined the grove between the prison and the river levee. The compound...called "Carville" by the U.S. marshal who had assigned me to this prison...was a series of classic revival-style two-story buildings. The walls were thick concrete painted off-white, and each building was connected by a two-story enclosed walkway. Large arched windows covered by thick screens lined the walls. There were no bars on the windows. Nothing but screen between prison and freedom.

Through the windows I saw a man limping in the hallway. He stopped at the last arched window, the one closest to the guardhouse, and looked out. He was a small black man wearing a gentleman's hat. Through the screen his face looked almost flat. He stood at the window and nodded as if he had been expecting me, so I waved. He waved back, but something was wrong with his hand. He had nofingers.

I stood and stepped over to the guardhouse. "Is that an inmate?" I asked the guard with the clipboard, motioning toward the man behind the screen.

"Patient," the guard said.

"A sick inmate?"

"You'll find out," he said, and went back to his clipboard.

I looked back for the man with no fingers, but he was no longer at the window. I wondered if he had lost his fingers making license plates or in some kind of prison-industry accident. Or God forbid, in a knife fight. I returned to my bench wondering why he was roaming about instead of locked in a cell.

The prison sat at the end of a narrow peninsula formed by a bend in the Mississippi River, twenty miles south of Baton Rouge. The strip of land was isolated, surrounded by water on three sides. My wife, Linda, and I had driven ninety quiet, tense minutes north from New Orleans. We left the radio off, but neither of us knew what to say. As we passed through the tiny town of Carville, Louisiana, a road sign warned: PAVEMENT ENDS TWO MILES. Just outside the prison gate, I'd stood at the passenger window. Linda looked straight ahead gripping the steering wheel with both hands. I'd leaned in through the window to kiss her good-bye. A cold, short kiss. Then I watched her drive away down River Road until she disappeared around the bend.

As I sat on the bench, waiting for the guard, I resolved again to keep the promises I made to Linda and our children...that I would emerge the same husband, the same father; that I would turn this year into something positive; that I would come out with my talents intact; that I would have a plan for our future.

A guard in a gray uniform drove toward me in a golf cart. He stopped in front of the bench and stepped out of the cart. A tall, muscular black man, he must have stood six feet, four inches. A long silver key chain rattled when he walked.

"I'm Kahn," he said.

I introduced myself and held out my hand. He looked at it and said, "I know who you are."

I put my hand back by my side.

He picked up my British Khaki bag. It was a gift from Linda and a reminder of better times. I had packed shorts and T-shirts, tennis shoes, socks, an alarm clock, five books, a racquetball racket, and assorted toiletries, as if I were actually going to camp. Kahn tossed the bag in the cart and told me to get in.

We drove down a long concrete road that ran along the right side of the prison adjacent to a small golf course, and I wondered if inmates were allowed to play. We passed at least ten identical buildings that looked like dormitories. The two-story enclosed hallways that connected each building formed a wall surrounding the prison. The place was enormous. Enough room for thousands, I guessed.

I had done my research on prisons. Not as an adult, but in high school. I had been captain of my debate team. I understood the pros and cons of capital punishment, mandatory minimum sentencing, drug decriminalization, bail reform, and community-service sentences. I won the state debate championship advocating drug trials on convicts. I argued with great passion that testing new medications on federal prisoners would expedite the FDA's seven-year process to prove drug safety and efficacy, that the financial drain on taxpayers would be greatly reduced, and that these tests would give inmates an opportunity to earn money, pay restitution, and seek redemption, while thousands of innocent lives would be saved. When I was debating the merits of drug testing on prisoners, I never dreamed that I might someday be one.

Kahn stopped the golf cart at the last of the white buildings. He grabbed my bag as if it were his own now, and we entered through a metal door. The walls were newly painted, and the floor was well polished and shone like Kahn's shaved head. I walked behind him down a narrow hallway, and he pulled the chain from his pocket. He unlocked a door marked R & D. My heart skipped, and I felt panic coming on as we stepped inside.

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts
A Memoir
. Copyright © by Neil White. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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In the Sanctuary of Outcasts 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 139 reviews.
bldavi1 More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read for all! It balances the life changing experiences of a young man with several historical events. The book is such a great read that I struggled to put the book down, as I became wrapped up in the story and the individual characters. Neil White paints a perfect picture of the setting and events as they unfold, the reader is given a front row seat. Beyond the story line is a great message for all to hear. The story line takes the reader on a journey familiar to many, the struggle to succeed in life and yet balance what is right. The story shows how one man was changed not so much by the punishment he received for his poor decisions, but by the "outcasts" who touched his heart. Many lessons can be learned from this moving book. Thanks Neil for sharing your story with all of us!
mgmtdoctor More than 1 year ago
I had the good fortune to grow up with Neil White and see the outstanding man and writer he's become. His book "In the Sanctuary of Outcasts" speaks to the reader on so many levels. The one closest to my heart questions why success and impression management are so important to our generation. Although Neil was never an outcast to those of us who know and love him, he had to struggle with his self-perception of making a very public error in judgement and how that fit into his image of himself. If one is lucky enough to have a life changing event, even as tragic as Neil's was, one may be able to find what is important in life. Neil White's message to us is to figure out what is truly important and work without ceasing to preserve and protect that. Neil has written a book that should be required reading for everyone. It's engaging, thought-provoking, and a great read.
Mother-Daughter-Book-Club More than 1 year ago
In the mid-1990s Neil White defrauded creditors out of their money and was sentenced to spend time in a federal minimum-security prison. He recounts his time spent in that prison in his memoir, In The Sanctuary of Outcasts, which gives the reader a glimpse into two societies shut off from the mainstream: prisoners and leprosy patients. The story fascinates from the start, when White tells of his wife dropping him off at the prison gatehouse. He is early, and he has to wait to be checked in. Everything about his check-in procedure is designed to let him know the rules from outside no longer apply, and he is not in charge of his daily activities. White is strip searched, assigned a room, and given a job. He has no door on his room, no privacy, and he learns not to offer to shake hands with the guards. He also soon finds out that the prisoners are housed alongside Hansen's Disease patients, more commonly known at lepers, and he must work serving them in the cafeteria. Through White's account we learn the history of the leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana, a facility that started in the late 1800s as a place to isolate those with the disease. While Hansen's Disease can now be treated in a physician's office and patients are no longer isolated, those living at Carville predated treatment, and many remained at the facility even after it was no longer necessary for them to stay. Most had been there for half a century or more, and they had no other place to go. At first White reacts as much of society has always reacted to these patients: he doesn't want to breathe the air they breathe, touch them, or eat food they have been around. He is afraid he will catch leprosy, turning his short prison sentence into one with consequences for the rest of his life. Gradually, he learns he has nothing to fear. He begins to seek their company whenever possible, and the lessons he learns from them help him find redemption for his own crimes and misdeeds. Through White's eyes we also see the other prisoners serving time with him, a hodgepodge of criminals who include doctors, lawyers and accountants as well as drug dealers and robbers. This bizarre co-existing of prisoners and patients came about as the federal government tried to decide what to do with the facility at Carville. Only White can answer whether he truly found redemption and learned to change his self-destructing habits for good. But his story of others who have learned to find grace and lead happy, productive lives despite being cut off from families and ostracized from the rest of society is inspiring as well as informative. I had the chance to glimpse the inside of Carville myself when I was in college and interviewed a patient who was editor of the newspaper the colony produced. I'll never forget the feeling I had of a place that had been both sanctuary and prison for the patients. White captures the place well, and in writing about it, sheds a bit more light on this little known piece of American history that should not be forgotten.
cindyld More than 1 year ago
This book is wonderful! It spoke to me on several different levels and inspired me to make a road trip of 8 hours....just to fully understand the author's experience. What most of us would consider punishment worthy of embarrassment and the desire to "dissappear", became a cathartic message from Neil White. His time spent at the Federal Prison in Carville Lousiana (for "creative check writing") became one of his life's greatest blessings. As a nurse, I was inspired to research the history of Hansen's disease (formerly known as leprosy) and the misunderstandings which still surround it. And as a reader, I was fascinated with the picture that Mr. White paints of the Carville Federal Prison which also houses the last known victims of leprosy in the United States. His descriptions of his fellow inmates were at times worthy of a good belly laugh. But most important were the patients that he came to know and respect during his time at Carville. Anyone lucky enough to happen upon this book will find themselves as I did, utterly drawn in by the Neil's story and the story of the forgotten colony of outcasts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book. I couldn't put it down. Isn't life beautiful when we learn to find God's grace in our daily lives.... No matter where we may be. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At first I found the author to be annoying and wasn't sure I wanted to continue reading --- I'm glad I did. Neill White brings you along on his journey of self discovery and change. And yes, he was annoying when the journey began --- he was honest about it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
being a working class guy who don't know the big finance people's way of life. gives me hope in that he learned a good lesson from people with no financial help to offer him. .. good read
kmoranty More than 1 year ago
this book was an excellent read. at first you start hating the author because he is so self absorbed and just an overall jerk. it doesnt take very long for you to see that he is changing because of the life altering events happening. he really does become a much better person.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book! Neil takes on a difficult job of taking a look inside himself and exposing his own disease of prejudice.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1993, Neil White confessed to the FBI that he conducted illegal bridge financing to keep his publishing business afloat when he found himself short cash. He spent one year at the experimental federal minimum-security pen in Carville, Louisiana. This facility included convicts and the last leper colony in the forty eight states. This terrific memoir looks deeply at the interactions of pariahs: criminal and health. The felons consisted of murderers, drug dealers, mobsters and a few white collar offenders. On the other hand the lepers ran the gamut of society including a mom whose newborn was removed from her immediately and wise eccentrics like the Earth Mother. Mr. White also scrutinizes the prison's employment staffs who deal similarly with the two radically different incarcerated groups. Crossing the three communities is caring Father Reynolds. This is a fascinating profound year that brings to life a diverse unique prison population.-------- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a memoir by a young white collar criminal of time spent at a combination federal prison/leprosy sanitarium in Louisiana.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A unique read that should inspire anyone who reads this story to reflect upon their own life and understand that it's never too late to change our preception of what's truly important in this one life we are given
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked the history in this story. That being said, I didn't care for the author that much. As other reviewers stated I think he was sorry that he got caught. I also guess I didn't realize prison was such a "nice" place. Seems strange to me. I didn't know about leopresy or Carvelle, so I did find it informative and interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this true story of a white collar convict who spends a year at the Carville national leper institution in Louisiana and what he learned through his experience. Thank you, Neil White for sharing your story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stumbled on this book unexpectedly and was fascinated by a piece of our world that I knew nothing about. The leprosy stories stunned me. I can see why this experience would shock a person into wondering, "What is REALLY important in this life?"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just started the book and I'm enjoying it. His words flow smoothly across the page. Just  Enough description. To fully picture the scene but not too much where you will get bored. I It writes like its nonfiction but you must remind yourself that's this is a memoir.  !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book because it told a story of a man who allowed himself to be ruled by his own desires thoughtless of how it would effect those around him. It is only when he found himself in the company of outcasts for situations in their life that he begins to realize you can't just do what makes you feel good...but think of how it will effect the lives of friends, family and the ones you meet along the way. Good book...definately would recomment it.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting, informative! I flew through this book. Very well written. I have met other folks who have read this and and everyone had a good review.
jcelrod on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this memoir fascinating but not very rounded. The story of a man's incarceration in a prison that doubled as a home for those afflicted with leprosy was interesting in that I learned much about the disease, how those who suffered from it were treated, and how many misconceptions there are about leprosy. I would have liked to have seen more about how the author took what he learned during his imprisonment and made his post-incarceration life a better one. The book ended when his prison sentence did and other than a brief update, there was nothing to really fill in the fifteen year gap between his release and the book.
bogopea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a cast of characters! True, but hard to believe. Author sentenced to serve time in a minimum security prison on same grounds as the only remaining leper colony in the US. The author uses the year to assess himself, past and present, and figures out his future. And all the inmates and patients inspire and move him in some way.
clue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm glad Neil White went to prison so he could write this book. As a young man White always wanted more. More prestige, more money, more flashy things. To maintain an image of success he started check kiting and eventually ended up in Federal prison for it. A resident of New Orleans, he was sent to Carville, La for an 18 month incarceration. He gound the prison at Carville wasn't the traditional lockup. Instead it was the former National Leprosarium. And 130 "lepers" still lived at the facility along with federal convicts. This memoir tells the story of White's experience with both. A story of jailhouse redemption like no other.
mchwest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. although the writing may not be great, he did a great job with the subject matter and I learned some very interesting things about leprosy, how the people with the disease were treated and how it is still found in the USA. Very cool read!
jmchshannon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Memoirs are funny things; one's appreciation of the entire memoir hinges on how well-received the writer is. If one does not like the narrator, then chances are that one is not going to enjoy the memoir. I have fallen on both sides of this situation; I have read memoirs where I was disgusted by the narrator and thus could barely finish the memoir. Similarly, I have fallen in love with the narrator and then adored every word. In my experiences, one either likes the narrator or does not; there is very little middle ground.Then I read In the Sanctuary of Outcasts. At first, I was a bit disgusted with Mr. White. He showed no remorse for his actions. He comes across as ego-maniacal and considers himself better than everyone else. He refuses to consider that he is a bad guy. However, as he learns more about Carville and its inmates and patients, something unusual happens. Mr. White matures and feels remorse. He realizes that his experiences mean nothing in the face of what the leprosy patients have faced in their lifetimes. He goes from being rather unlikable to becoming someone who realizes his frailty and obstacles in life and refuses to ignore them. His growth is remarkable for a memoir.I suspect that anyone cannot change after a year spent living next to and working with leprosy patients. This history of Carville, its patients, and their individuals histories are poignant and fascinating. The background of leprosy patients, their treatment by society throughout history and even into present day is astonishing in how little we still know about Hansen's disease and upsetting that people can and still do treat others like that. Ella, Harry, Stan and Sarah - they come alive through Mr. White's words, which are a testament to their dignity and humanity in the face of their struggles. More importantly, Mr. White proves that true beauty is internal and eternal.In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is more than a memoir. In the end, it is a reminder that our troubles are insignificant to what others have faced. Through his incarceration, Mr. White recognizes the truth behind Ella's words - that while we cannot change who we are, we can change our circumstances and our approach to life. He shares with us the importance of taking time to enjoy life, of living simply, and of not bemoaning our choices and subsequent consequences of those choices. In the end, Mr. White offers us powerful life lessons that each and every one of us need to take to heart. Even with its dubious beginnings, I am grateful that I read In the Sanctuary of Outcasts for its history lessons, for its introduction to a world completely different from my own, and for its lessons in humanity.
JGoto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1993 Neil White was convicted of bank fraud and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. To his surprise, he found himself assigned to a Louisiana facility, Carville, which served as both a prison and Leprosarium ¿ a home for people with Hansen¿s Disease. White¿s memoir, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, is an account of the year he spent there. When I picked up this book, I expected an emotional and dramatic account of White¿s life among lepers. What I found instead were thoughtful musings on his own life and how interactions with both the patients and other inmates there affected him and his outlook. Throughout the book there are references to the history of Carville, as well as patients¿ reminiscences of their early days at the colony. One that stands out for me is Ella¿s memory of the day her father brought her there as a child in 1926 and her quiet goodbye to her life as she had known it. The understatement of her story added to its poignancy. In the memoir White also includes descriptions of the crimes he committed, as well as his relationships with his two children, parents, and fellow inmates who ranged from CEO white-collar criminals to illiterate drug dealers. White's stay at Carville had a profound impact on him and his portrayal of that time is an interesting read.