Book Review: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts

Daddy is going to camp. That’s what I told my children. But it wasn’t camp. . . .

When I first started reading In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it.  Neil White was sent to Federal prison for check kiting.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Check kiting is the illegal act of taking advantage of the float to make use of non-existent funds in a checking or other bank account. It is commonly defined as writing a check from one bank knowingly with non-sufficient funds, then writing a check to another bank, also with non-sufficient funds, in order to cover the absence. The purpose of check kiting is to falsely inflate the balance of a checking account in order to allow checks that have been written that would otherwise bounce to clear.

Basically he was working the system to cover his own butt when he didn’t have enough money.  For anything; including paying his own staff.  And he got caught.  It’s hard to have a lot of sympathy for someone like that. And he doesn’t help himself at first, but comes off as something of a cad.  However, at least he was an honest cad, he knew he was doing something wrong, admitted it, and took his punishment like a man.

In 1993, I pled guilty to one count of bank fraud.  I had been kiting checks as a form of bridge financing.  When the FBI called, I invited them to my house, put on a pot of coffee and told them exactly what I had been doing.  A couple of weeks later, I ran into one of the FBI agents at a cocktail reception at our country club.  He told me that during his twenty-year career, I was one of only two criminal suspects who had not lied to him.

He was sent, for a sentence of 18 months, to federal prison in Louisiana for bank fraud.  It is no ordinary prison however. It is a beautiful former plantation.  It is Carville , Louisiana .  It an isolated colony, a home to the last suffers of leprosy in the United States .  It is a close knit, stubborn community of suffers of a horrible, disfiguring disease and they are forced to live with the inmates in a strange mixture of what society wants to keep separate and forgotten.

At first, Neil is as uncomfortable as one would expect when thrust into such a situation.

Leprosy. Kahn had to be wrong. Surely, healthy people-even inmates-would not be imprisoned with lepers. 

I could recover from a year in prison, but I couldn’t put my life back together with a missing hand or a deformed face.  That would be like a life sentence.  If I caught leprosy, I would lose my family, never be able to get close to Neil and Maggie.  I was frantic, but I had no way of letting anyone know what was happening to me.  I was completely helpless.

As I got further into the book, I began to understand things about Neil, the patients and inmates, and myself.  And isn’t that one of the most profound things you can get from a book?  A life-changing, eye-opening story with heart?  That’s what you have here.  Even as the child of a handicapped man, I know I look at such people in a different way.   My great-uncle was in and out of prison and he made me immensely uncomfortable even though I had once adored him.  In the Sanctuary of Outcasts made me take a long, hard look at myself and I know I come up short.  The “characters” in this book from the inmates to the patients are all people most of us wouldn’t give a second thought, but Mr. White gives them life and does it compassionately and there are even a few that I would be proud to know, just like Neil White became.

Visit Neil White’s website where you can see a short video about Carville.

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts
Neil White
Published by:
HarperCollins Publishers
On Sale:
June 2010

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10 thoughts on “Book Review: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts

  1. I was surprised by how much I liked this book. I felt the same way about White as you did when I started–and kept feeling that way for a while which I think is now that way he feels about himself looking back at that time in his life. I was impressed with his honesty and that he didn't even try to make himself come off as a completely reformed person when he got out.

    In regards to the leprosy, I did a post the other day talking about finding it in two books I'd read recently. I was surprised to get an email that day from the director of the National Hansen's Disease Programs and he had some books to recommend by former patients. I'll have that up in my Sunday Salon if you're interested in reading more about these people.

  2. Fantastic review. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to read this book. It really does make one think about how they live their life. I felt guilty for complaining about the most mundane things. I have it pretty easy compared to the people portrayed in the book.

  3. I felt the same way about this book. At first, I had a hard time liking the author, but then he really seemed to learn a lesson and it makes you think about yourself and how you would react. I loved that. It was a terrific read, too, simply because it was so unusual. Great review, O Capricious One!

  4. Great review, Heather. And thank you for sharing your story. It puts such a personal touch to your review and makes the book sound even more intriguing. I just finished writing my review, which is on the tour for Wednesday. I got a lot out of it, too.

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