by Neil White
Harper Perennial, 2010
Source: TLC Tours (Thanks, Trish!)
Summary in a Sentence:
Journalist and editor White is was sentenced to prison at Carville, the only leper colony remaining in the United States, for committing a relatively innocuous financial crime.
Daddy is going to camp. That's what I told my children. A child psychologist suggested it. “Words like prison and jail conjure up dangerous images for children,” she explained. But it wasn't camp . . .
What do you get when you combine leprosy patients, nuns, corrections officers, and prison inmates? No, not the beginnings of a bad joke...you get the makings of a great memoir of a special place. Only in the South would there be a prison that also houses some of the nation's last living leprosy patients.
I've got a definite soft spot in my heart for Southern writers. I'm from Tennessee and the rest of my family is from Mississippi, so I love the eccentric characters that tend to pop up in Southern stories, fiction and non-fiction alike, perhaps because I recognize so many of them from daily life.
To be completely honest, this book exceeded my expectations. I am a great fan of the memoir genre, but some writers tend to veer into a dangerously self-gratifying arena of autobiography. This book is at turns funny and introspective, without being grandiose. Each chapter is a different vignette of White's life in prison or life before prison, complete with an accompanying snapshot of family members and leprosy patients. This is a very character driven memoir, including mob lawyers, murderers, and drug dealers. One of my favorite characters was Link, a foul-mouthed inmate who constantly poked fun at White, and who in the end showed that even he had a soft spot when it came to his family. In the end, an interesting commentary on how people from different social and racial classes let former barriers drop once they are forced together involuntarily for long periods.