by KATHY LUCKETT
Memoirs are a fascinating genre. Wouldn’t we all love the opportunity to write the story of our lives, leaving out the times when we were petty and selfish and impossible to be around? It seems preferable to write one’s life story with oneself as the hero, the shining example of courage and kindness, admired by others but envied and misunderstood by our older, less attractive siblings.
An honest evaluation of a life is found in Neil White’s book “In the Sanctuary of Outcasts.” Neil was a rich young ruler, at the top of his game in the publishing world, but caught up in a web of financial deceit to keep his public image alive. Active in his church and in philanthropic causes in Southern society, he began kiting checks to cover his family’s extravagant standard of living.
White leaves out no details. Caught by the authorities in 1993, he was convicted of bank fraud and sentenced to 18 months in a federal penitentiary. Prison beds were hard to come by for non-violent criminals, so White was sentenced with others to the National Leprosarium at Carville, La.
Since 1894, victims of leprosy who lived within the continental United States were confined to the abandoned sugar plantation at the bend of the Mississippi River. Leprosy was considered a shameful disease, even a punishment for immorality.
In this beautiful isolated colony, Neil White met the last members of a secret outcast society. This diverse group of patients under mandatory quarantine, caring nuns, efficient guards and criminal offenders taught White the gentle lessons of humility and redemption.
This is a terrific book to remind you what matters most in life. And it demonstrates what an honest reflection on one’s life can teach us all.