Wednesday, 21 December 2011

book review: in the sanctuary of outcasts

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, Neil White, memoir

This beautiful book, by Neil White, is a memoir of 18 months the author spent in Corville Prison, USA, for bank fraud.  Corville Prison is an isolated institution which served not only as a prison facility for US Federal prisoners, but also served as home to the ‘secret people’ – a community of leprosy patients, who are also cared for by a small group of nuns.

By his early 30s Neil epitomised the meaning of success with the world at his feet.  Married with two small children, Neil was a self-made man with a glittering and fast-moving business of glamour, power and status.    

Then suddenly, Neil is plunged unwillingly into a collection of society’s most feared and unwanted people – criminals and leprosy patients.  The outcasts.  

As the layers of self-reflection and honesty are acknowledged, Neil begins his own transformation.  He begins to see himself more honestly.  Concurrently he learns about leprosy and the cruelty and stigma that sufferers of this disease must endure.  He begins to build friendships with the 'outcasts' and learns from them.  These significant friendships have a huge impact.  He notices that his initial horror and revulsion at the sight of the ‘secret people’ disappears as he learns to respect and love them.

Finally, in a sanctuary for outcasts, I understood the truth. Surrounded by men and women who could not hide their disfigurement, I could see my own.

Within this unlikely mix of leprosy patients, nuns and felons, this story is powerful and moving.  Very real and very, very readable.

Highly recommended.

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