April 28, 2010 · 6:30 PM
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This time we will be enjoying pizza at Pizzeria Venti in Buckhead and discussing "In the Sanctuary of Outcasts" by Neil White:
Before he was imprisoned for fraud in 1993, editor Neil White's life had been defined by dreams of wealth and status. Even in prison, he saved the scented strips from magazines to substitute for the cologne he loved. But his was hardly the standard minimum-security facility: Carville, in rural Louisiana, also served as the country's last leper colony. Once inside, White is pleasant and collegial with his fellow inmates. He applies his creativity and desire for approval to his prison jobs, which at first include chalking the dining room menu board (he adds puns and sketches) and creating ambitious garnishes for food. He finds comradeship not only with white-collar criminals -- a mafia lawyer, a crooked doctor -- but also with loud, brash-talking Link, who mocks him as boring, "the whitest man I ever met." His most important mentors, however, are the men and women confined because of leprosy, particularly wheelchair-bound Ella Bounds, who was forced to leave her family as a child, and whose good humor and gnomic wisdom astonish him. The writing becomes somewhat cursory as the narrative progresses. And though this is a story of redemption, you can't tell quite how deep White's personal changes go. Still, this book offers an important glimpse into a dark and receding corner of our medical and penal history, as well as a fascinating personal story.
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