Friday, October 9, 2009

Let Us Call to Mind Our Sins

Neil White's memoir In the Sanctuary of Outcasts recounts his life as a successful young journalist and regional magazine publisher, father of two, and happily married man.

His business and ambition allowed his family to live well and to socialize with the Mississippi Gulf Coast's elite.

When White's self-described media empire confronted tough financial times, he began to move money from account to account to make ends meet--a practice commonly known as check kiting.

The federal government prosecuted White, a court found him guilty of fraud, and he was sentenced to a 18 months in prison.

White knew that his crime and incarceration would inalterably change his life--but not in the ways he expected. This is where the story really begins.

When White arrived at a minimum-security facility in Carville, Louisiana, he encountered a forgotten population: men and women suffering from Hansen's disease, residents of the last leper colony in the United States.
Three men were sunbathing on a shuffleboard court. Another man was zipping around the grass on a small, motorized four-wheeler pulling a trailer full of garbage bags. He drove the vehicle in my direction and stopped in front of me. He turned off the engine and let out a loud howl like a coyote.

"You know they got lepers here, don't you?" he said.

"I've heard."

"And you're a convict, right?" he asked.

"I guess so."

The man smiled and said, "Then that makes you a lepercon!" He laughed, threw his head back, and howled again. Then he cranked the engine and drove up a ramp and into a hallway.
The patients who befriend White and share their personal stories--at times hesitantly and with suspicion--ultimately have the greatest impact on his "rehabilitation." This book strives to return that favor.

According to the publisher: "A portion of the author's proceeds go to IDEA, the National Hansen's Disease Museum, and advocacy groups protecting the rights of persons afflicted with Hansen's disease."

No comments: