In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White (2010 nonfiction)
From 1991-94, under the same roof of an old Louisiana plantation house lived minimum security federal prisoners, the residents of a leprosarium, the last one in the continental United States for people with Hansen’s disease (“Don’t call us lepers!”), and the nuns who cared for them. During his 18 month sentence at Carville, the author, convicted of bank fraud, decides to act as a journalist, interviewing prisoners and residents alike, to validate his time there. Over the course of the year in Carville, he discards his former arrogance and status seeking for a simpler, more compassionate view of and relationship with the people in his life. In the process, we meet a spectrum of interesting characters, some comical, some intriguing, some despicable which overall gives an insightful perspective on his time there. It is, however, the life-long residents of Carville, those who were brought to the leprosarium as children and who spent the rest of their lives there, never seeing their parents or families again, that are the most fascinating and compelling. To learn their stories and that of their home, Carville Plantation, is the most valuable part of this book. It belies stereotypes and puts human faces on the those disfigured and maimed in body but strong and resilient in spirit. Despite its topics of incarceration and Hansen’s disease, it is an enjoyable and informative read, one you may continue to mull over long after you’ve finished the book.
Reviewed by Carol Lyke