*In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White (2009)

inthesanctuaryofoutcastsBook Review: This is a somewhat bizarre, but good, memoir about a thirty-three year old man who spends a year in a federal prison for check kiting.  But the minimum security prison he’s assigned to is also home to the last “leper colony” in America, in Carville. Louisiana.  What ensues is a tale of his year in which he moved back and forth between the inmate side of the prison and the patient side of the prison, made up of just over a hundred people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy).  The patients are there by their own choosing, most having nowhere else to call home since they were once confined to this place as a way to quarantine them.  Most were brought against their will or the will of their families, and few know any other way of life, so they have chosen to stay and make Carville their home.  But it’s also home to federal inmates, and the two groups are not supposed to co-mingle, though at times they do, especially the author who spends his year trying to learn as much as he can about the myriad of patients, their histories, and the history of leprosy and the colony.  The story takes place in the early to mid 1990’s, so there’s actually 15 years or so between the time Neil White lived and reported on this and the time this memoir was published.  The personalities of the patients, particularly Ella and Harry, and the various inmates, like Doc and Link, are the most memorable, poignant, and entertaining aspects of the book.  Less so, is White’s self analysis about how and why he got himself into such a financial mess and thus into prison and how he’ll emerge to live a different life.  Still, this is a unique memoir–I certainly did not know we still had an active leprosarium in the United States in the 1990’s, much less one that shares its compound with federal prisoners.  (memoir)

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