Neil White dreamed of being the best or the first or at least rich and famous. By the time he was in his late twenties, he had it made: beautiful wife, two great children, and a publishing empire based on the Gulf Coast. He had a penthouse office, he served on important committees, and everyone knew his name.
Slow economy? Mounting debts? No worries. White was an expert at surviving cash flow problems and practiced at finding investors. But, in fact, he owed his public façade of leading citizen and successful business entrepreneur to his true talent: kiting checks.
Even as White walked through the prison gates of Carville (in Louisiana), he was thinking about how he was different from all the other inmates. He was special, and he was determined to let everyone know that he was not just a common criminal. What he didn't know was that Carville was also a federal medical facility. At the time White was given his prison number and entered into the books, the compound was home to two populations that society shunned: convicted felons and patients with Hansen's disease (leprosy).
In In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, White tells his story of a journey through the looking glass to a place where virtually everyone is anonymous but nothing is private. He holds little back: from his feelings of horror and disgust the first day he walked through the patients' cafeteria to the last day when he couldn't take his eyes off his friend Ella Bounds, who had spent almost sixty-five years at Carville as a patient; from the beginnings of his creative financing to the day he was caught; from his desire to be admired by society to his discovery that life is about the little things; from his determination to hold himself apart from the inmates to his feelings of kinship and friendship.
White fully recognizes how lucky he was to have been sent to Carville. Not because it was considered a country-club prison but because its unique blend of opposites provided the environment he needed to finally focus on his own flaws. He did not have a miraculous or religious transformation; instead, by talking to the patients and by trying to help his fellow prisoners better themselves through education, he gradually learned some of the more important of life's lessons: asking for help can be a strength, telling the truth can be powerful, and staying true to oneself brings freedom.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are earmarked for several advocacy groups and the National Hansen's Disease Museum.
Neil White has a website with photographs, videos, and more information.
Published by HarperCollins, 2009
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