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In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White
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Jul 30, 09


Neil White was a spoiled, privileged white Southerner from a successful family. Poverty, misfortune, hardship happened to other people, inferior people not fortunate or lucky or smart enough to succeed. This arrogance and sense of entitlement led the talented young publishing entrepreneur to cross the line of criminality. Convicted of fraud, he was sent to a federal prison not far from his home in New Orleans. Little did he know that this place, his time in it, and the extraordinary people he would meet would transform his life and save his soul.

White discovered that Carville wasn't an ordinary prison; it was the last leper colony operating in the continental U.S. Yet instead of feeling disgusted, he was intrigued. Over his time there he gradually came to know some of the afflicted, as well as some fellow inmates. Instead of marking time, he immersed himself in the history of Carville and the lives of its inhabitants, people with extraordinary and often heartbreaking stories. At first, he was going to do some gonzo journalism (if this were today, he'd be blogging from his cell) and write about his experience. But as he truly got to know these people, he came to admire and I dare say love them. And that put his petty sufferings, his drive for monetary and professional success, his sense of superiority and entitlement into perspective. His stay at Carville made him understand and appreciate what is truly important in life, knowledge that continues to guide his life. He waited more than a decade to tell this story, and it is one that needs to be heard and shared.

I, too, feel enriched meeting these people and White himself. So many people go through life blind, oblivious to the needs and wonders of everything around them (and inside them). Neil White was given a gift. Fortunately, he not only recognized the opportunity he was offered, but wrung from it every bit of soulful nourishment he could. And now, with In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, he passes that gift to us.

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