S: Reflections on "In the Sanctuary of Outcasts"
BC: All Bonaventure Reads St. Bonaventure University, St. Bonaventure, N.Y.
FC: Reflections on In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by St. Bonaventure University's Class of 2016
1: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White echoes many of the Franciscan values that form the foundation of an education at St. Bonaventure University: the dignity and worth of each and every person and an understanding that each one of us is sister or brother to everyone.
2: Kudos | St. Bonaventure University salutes the freshman winners of the Provost's Essay Contest, held in conjunction with All Bonaventure Reads University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Michael Fischer is pictured with the essay winners | ____________________________________________________________
4: To me, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is a reflection of the human nature of all of us, granted on a more extreme scale. Not all of us are federal convicts; conversely not all of us are lepers, at least not in the medical point of view. However, I think that all of us can relate, at least in some marginal way, to the people in the book, from flawed protagonist Neil White, to “leper” Ella, to the prison inmates. I can see myself in White, the vain, egotistical, eager-for-attention White who searches for gratification in everything he does. | Don’t we all, at least to some extent? Aren’t we all a little bit like him, but perhaps missing the one piece that makes him someone to emulate: his self-awareness, his acknowledgement that he is, indeed, a human, incomplete, imperfect, but striving to be better, striving to find himself? Willing to change, his journey should be one that we all undertake at some point in our lives, and it shouldn’t take federal incarceration or some other dramatic, life-changing event to do so. We can all be better, but it requires an intrinsic reflection on who we are, something that is much more challenging than what it sounds. | By Jason Damon South Wales, N.Y. Class of 2016 | T
5: Through his bizarre trek through heartache and hopelessness, White discovers himself, as well as gains an appreciation of what he has and what he used to have. We have the ability to do the same. And of course there is Ella, who, to me, was the most resonating character in the memoir. Leper Ella; shunned by a society more flawed and imperfect than she ever was. Ella, indirectly, taught me a lesson that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life; that the way that one carries his/her self isn’t dependent on physical appearance. It isn’t based on awards and accolades. It’s all in one’s attitude. She could have been bitter about her internment at Carville. I know that I would have if I had my family and way of life ripped away from me and replaced by the downward, condescending glare of society in general. But instead she took the high road, so to speak. Leaning on her faith and using it to guide her, she soldiered on through decades of interment at the colony, forced at first, voluntary as time wore on. She became a model of how one should live a life; humbly, full of faith and accepting of who you are and who others are, “flaws” and all. It really is so true what White realizes toward the end of the book; that the lepers aren’t the outcasts. They aren’t the ones who are the “scourges” of society. In fact, in the cases of people like Ella and Harry, they live meaningful lives the likes of which the rest of us, the rest of the “real world,” would do well to imitate. Another thing that really stuck with me while reading was the aforementioned similarities to St. Francis. He, like White, came from a prominent, wealthy family, was humbled, and eventually connected with himself. Granted, he didn’t devote his entire life to the service of others, but White, albeit unknowingly, walked in a path similar to one St. Francis embarked on centuries earlier. And it’s those types of parallels that I’m going to be particularly attentive to in the future. For me, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts was a powerful, meaningful read. I feel that I got a lot out of it and that it can help me in my own personal journey of evolution as a human being. Like Neil White, I want to look at myself and, with the admission that I am myself imperfect and incomplete, strive to be better.
6: Life, as we know, is full of surprises, but our fate is inevitable. However, free will determines which direction our fate will take. In the memoir In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, Neil White makes a shameful decision that alters his life from being a revered journalist to becoming incarcerated for bank fraud. He was sentenced to one year and to mask his conviction from his children, he told them he would be away at a camp. There is a clear connection between my life and this book because when I was five years old, my cousin went to jail. At a young age, I visited my cousin in prison and I looked up to him as a role model. In my father’s absence, my cousin fulfilled the role of a male figure in my life and I considered him my best friend. At this age, I did not know right from wrong and I did not know much about jail. | I knew about police officers, drugs and gangsters, but I did not know where the bad guys would go. It was troubling to fathom that my hero and best friend was regarded as a bad guy in the eyes of the law. I felt a sense of betrayal for it was as if our relationship was a lie. My cousin’s decision to live outside the confines of the law and not consider the toll it would take on his own life and loved ones left me feeling hurt and deceived. | Befadil Eustate Bronx, N.Y. Class of 2016 | L
7: While reading, I could also relate to Neil White's children, Neil and Maggie, as they played in what they perceived to be a playground — what was actually the prison grounds. The ideas of being perplexed about what’s going on and living a lie are the same sentiments and experiences that I had. Another connection that I can relate to is Underdog being Neil’s favorite cartoon. He states, “In my parents’ bathroom in front of the large mirror, I would tie a towel around my neck and flex my muscles like the superhero,” (White, 51). Like Neil, I too had a cartoon character that I use to pretend to be. My favorite cartoon was Superman because he was perfect in every way; he could not age or be hurt. After seeing the eleven o’clock episode every Saturday morning, I would tie a towel around my neck, put water on my head and slick my hair back to emulate his hairstyle. I would draw abs on my stomach with markers and run around the whole house pretending to fly just like Superman. This made me feel free, invincible and in control of everything. The memoir In the Sanctuary of Outcasts proved to be an awesome read for the summer for it was reflective of my own personal experiences, both the good and the bad. Neil’s character reminded me of the traumatic time in my life when I could no longer see or depend on my cousin. This period of my life forced me to grow up too soon and be conscious of the grim realities of life. Yet, his character also made me reminisce on how blissfully juvenile I could be in believing that dressing and playing the part of Superman could in turn make me a superhero. Being like Superman meant I was in control of the everyday happenings in my life and the world at large. This memoir also has broader implications for life in general as it reveals how decisions can impact one’s life. Neil’s dreadful decision cost him his freedom and liberty for one year. More specifically, the memoir revealed how taking shortcuts in life can alter your fate to an undesirable route as shown by Neil White and my cousin. Their own free will triggered a lifestyle that ruined their reputation, persona and life. It is for this reason the main takeaway from the memoir is that people need to come to an understanding that they need to think before they act, because all actions have consequences.
8: Rajat Goyal Shrewsbury, Mass. Class of 2016 | Ultimately, what really struck me about this engaging and thoughtful memoir was how cogently Neil White relays his three key lessons to the reader: live with a sense of gratitude, know that money is not required to live a fulfilling life, and realize that everyone has many lessons to offer based on their experiences. Through these and his depiction of his miserable life at the prison in Carville, White exemplifies how to make the best of the negative circumstances and situations that are presented in front of him. I firmly believe that such a lesson has a lot of relevance to society, particularly to the increasingly capitalistic and materialistic society we live in today. At the beginning of his prison term, White kept considering himself to be in an unfortunate situation, a feeling that many teenagers growing up in privileged circumstances have experienced — at least slightly. However, as White himself concluded in prison, we as teenagers should be grateful for the opportunities we have access to, realize how privileged we are, and put a positive spin to our situations despite how negative the situation may seem to be. We should embrace life and the world and make the most out of our circumstances, something Ella, an elderly leprosy patient who lost contact with her family from an early age, was able to do. Volunteering at a clinic in the Third World country of India and in hospitals in the United States has given me this sense of gratitude, and tutoring children in inner-city schools who come from less fortunate backgrounds has helped me understand and appreciate how fortunate I am. Just as White was able to get over his own stigma and preconceived thoughts of leprosy and intermingle and relate with the patients in the leprosarium, I have learned to appreciate everyone as an equal, regardless of background, physical appearance, and socioeconomic status. | When I read the back cover of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts right after receiving it during Orientation, I didn’t really know what to expect. However, within minutes of opening the book, I was engrossed by the tale that unfolded in front of me, one of personal tribulations and eventual redemption. | W
9: White’s book also shows us how valueless materialistic things are, and in contrast, how important family and human connections are. When Neil White’s children, Maggie and Little Neil, visited their dad in his humble inmate dorm on Kids’ Day, they were happy to see him and be together again, and had a blast playing in the prison courtyard. Seeing his children so happy permeated White’s conscience, and, in turn, made him realize that one’s happiness is not defined by the number of possessions one has. He saw the same thing with leprosy patients, people who had lost so much but were still happy with their few possessions, enjoying every moment with each other. This community dynamic helped Neil feel this same happiness and learn that deep, personal relationships can often trump negative circumstances. While we may not realize our need for human relationships in this age of technology and virtual communication, it is absolutely essential to set aside time where we simply relish activities with loved ones instead of constantly checking the newest Internet fads or shopping the newest trends. I have tried to put this into practice whenever I can, choosing to spend time with my family and friends instead of spending countless hours surfing the web and playing video games in solitude. | Since White grew up, by his own admission, entitled, he never previously understood that everyone, rich or poor, healthy or sick, educated or uneducated, has advice to offer. He never previously realized how morally uplifting it was to use his strengths to help the general good. For example, White felt genuinely happy when he helped the guards build their résumés when they were being fired, or when he helped uneducated inmates in classes by answering their questions so they could pass the GED. It was specifically during this time when White made a conscious effort to understand his mistakes, motivated by the passion and determination of those around him, enabling him to successfully rebound from the lowest point in his life. The book also shows that everyone, including intelligent and uneducated people, have lots to offer. White learned not only from his exceptional high school teachers when he was a stellar student, but also from Ella, a most-likely uneducated lady who was able to guide Neil through her wisdom. | He learned about things that were novel to him from Doc, and he spontaneously realized the importance of seeking advice from those more knowledgeable than him while playing a simple monopoly game against Steve, a man who was undefeated in the game. He also, surprisingly, learned a few things from Link, even though he usually provided entertainment throughout the day with his quick and witty remarks. This “knowledge-hungry” existence is a sense of purpose I have started to develop in my own life, particularly through questioning my surroundings, never taking anything at its face value, and learning from everyone that I meet. If Neil White went to the prison/leprosarium, a place shunned by society, for check kiting and was still able to transform it into a Bonaventure, a “good journey,” filled with learning and life lessons, I look forward to finding myself on a similarly fulfilling journey in the place that prides itself on giving its students the opportunity to do so: St. Bonaventure University.
10: Lydia Hall- Lochmann Van Bennekom Dansville, N.Y. Class of 2016 | As I was growing up, I had heard few things about the disease called leprosy. All I really knew was that it was a disease that was discussed in the Bible and people who had it were forced to live in a colony segregated from everyone else. Until I read Neil White’s book In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, I didn’t even know that cases of leprosy were still around. Reading this book not only expanded my knowledge about leprosy, but also changed the way I viewed things and definitely prepared me for college life. Throughout my years at school I have been taught that everyone is different in his own way and we need to accept one another. I always thought I did a good job of that. I always let the new kid at school sit with me, and I always made a point of being friendly to people who were thought of as “different.” But reading Neil White’s book, I realized that throughout my life I was constantly judging people and not even giving them a chance to prove themselves. One part of the book that really impacted me was when Neil said that the disfigurements on the patients started to disappear when he really got to know them. The fact that he says this really proves the point that what is on the outside does not matter. This is still a hard concept to grasp because everyone is still held back by the stereotypes that we have experienced throughout our lives. | This book has taught me that we need to try our hardest to look past the stereotypes because we could, and most likely will be, in a similar situation one day and we want people to give us a chance. No one likes to be considered an outcast. As we try to give people chances, sometimes we get off task and become too concerned with what people think of us and we fail to do the right thing. | A
11: A quote in the book that I can use in my everyday life was said by Ella: “What people thinks about you ain’t none of your business” (p.191). I found this quote useful because throughout life we often find ourselves playing the “she said, he said” game, which always causes grief. We are always trying to find out what people think and say about us, but in reality it really does not matter. No matter what people think about us, we are still the same and knowing what other people think of us is not going to change a thing; plus, each person is entitled to his own opinion. The quotes that are said in this book are very insightful and wise, and often shed light on how to deal with a situation, such as this quote about not caring what other people think. It shows the reader that you shouldn’t care what others think because it will not make a difference in your current situation; therefore a person shouldn’t waste time thinking about it. I also found that this book gave me real insight for college. I am extremely nervous about being in a new social situation, fearful that I will not make friends or succeed. I, like many people, am trying to “reinvent” myself. But reading this book made me realize that I will always be who I am, which is okay. | This realization came to me in Ella’s comment to Neil: “CoCola bottle still a CoCola bottle, just found ‘em a new purpose.” This quote helped me come to the realization that a person must have this attitude going into a new social situation. We can still be ourselves. This book has been an enjoyable experience and also educational. It has taught me to view each person in the world as an individual rather than a stereotype, and has given me major insight as I start college. It also taught me more about a disease that I had no idea about. Although a lot of Neil’s book focused on leprosy, it really goes much deeper and teaches readers deep lessons about life.
12: Neil White’s memoir of his incarceration at Carville minimum-security prison and leprosarium shows many parallels of compassion that I can relate to my own life experiences. Several situations in my life stood out to me as having a deep correlation to the major themes in the narrative. In my life, I am driven most by compassion. Empathy is the only concept that I feel will truly bring me fulfillment. When choosing my career path of being a physician, I shadowed several other medical doctors and was deeply motivated by the patients I saw. In a way, these patients were the “lepers” of their society. One of the first patients that I saw was a middle-aged man who suffered from Raynaud’s disease, a vascular-constricting disease that would cause his fingers to literally fall off. | Mitch Kovacs Medina, Ohio Class of 2016 | N
13: This man was forced to wear gloves even in the summer, partly because his hands were always cold due to his disease, but also because he felt that people avoided him for his deformities. This man’s pain is very similar to the pain of the patients of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts. He was compelled to change his lifestyle in many ways because of one characteristic that made him visually stand out. On top of his years of physical pain, the man, like the patients, was forced to deal with emotional pain as well. The attending physician left me in the exam room alone with the man, and the patient told me how he could no longer do many of his favorite activities, including his favorite one of playing guitar. My one-on-one conversation with the man helped me to develop my sense of compassion just as Neil did throughout the narrative. | As I spoke to more patients and heard more of their stories, I earned my sense of compassion. I learned that developing a unique intimate relationship with a person is valued above all else, and my belief in this was reaffirmed by In the Sanctuary of Outcasts. Neil’s journey from selfishness to compassion paralleled my own path. As he developed a relationship with Ella and the other patients, I saw the route from repulsion, to questioning, and finally to having a deep care for the human person. The theme of compassion in In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is very prevalent throughout the memoir. After engaging in Neil’s experiences with the patients, I have seen compassion manifest in new ways. By seeing his interaction with the painful stories of both patients and inmates, I have more confidence in being able to recognize a situation that calls for compassion.
14: Ryan McDonough Penfield, N.Y. Class of 2016 | As you can imagine, arriving at my dorm for Orientation and reading this sealed note addressed to me in official St. Bonaventure University stationery was pretty nerve-wracking. Here I am, “starting my adventure as a Bonnie” and here is this note with a summer assignment. While I was reading the note I could not help but be completely taken aback at the fact this would be step one in “starting my academic adventure as a Bonnie.” | “Here it is.” I thought to myself. “This is assignment number one of hundreds as a Bonnie. Let’s make this one count!” It was much more difficult than I had anticipated. While I was reading the book, I was thinking to myself that there is nothing in common between Neil White and myself. However, after I was done reading and let the entirety of the memoir marinate in my mind, I did find a few parallels with Mr. White. I remembered the time I had spent volunteering at a nursing home. I had walked into there very uneasy toward the residents, much like Mr. White’s attitude toward the leprosy patients. It was just uncomfortable for me being around them. They did not look like me or act like I did. For a fifteen-year-old kid, this was like being in a whole different world. But then, as I spent some time with the residents, I began to become absolutely infatuated with each and every one of them. They each had a story to tell, one far greater than any that I could ever tell with my fifteen years’ experience. One man stood out to me in particular. He was a Marine who participated in the storming of Iwo Jima during World War II. That completely took me aback. Much like Mr. White developed a deep connection with Ella and her story, I could not stop talking with this man. | A
15: That time spent in the nursing home with the residents truly changed me. I became more open-minded toward people who are not like me, especially the elderly. Such as how Mr. White, after being spending time with the patients, spoke to the obese man in the line at the grocery store that he had avoided time and time again on the streets. Now I will go out of my way to have a conversation with an elderly person. I also examined the psychological aspect of Mr. White’s memoir. Jail completely tore him up inside. He missed his kids, he missed his wife, and he missed his parents. Not to mention how much his life changed during his time incarcerated. His marriage failed because of his incarceration and because he was issued jail time, and no one in the business world would ever trust him again. His life and career would never be the same because of one mistake. This really spoke to me. I could have everything in the world going for me, and one mistake can take it all away. After college I could have my dream job and dream family, but if I make one crucial mistake, that can be gone in the snap of a finger. I realized after reading this memoir that everything in life that is extremely valuable to you needs to be held on to, very tight, right next to your heart. If something means a great deal to you, do whatever you can to keep it. That is what I took from Mr. White’s memoir. Although I did not realize it while I was actually turning the pages, Mr. White’s memoir has meant a great deal to me because of that valuable life lesson he shared.
16: Everyone has a weakness, everyone has a kryptonite. Even the world’s greatest superheroes cannot pass the mundane characteristic of having a weakness. Superman cannot surpass kryptonite nor can Clark Kent surpass his mortal weaknesses either. Some men strive for greatness by tucking their weaknesses under the rug; but the men who are truly great, the men who will truly be remembered for their greatness, are the men who embrace their weaknesses by the horns. Neil White, author of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir, always dreamed of being a man known for his greatness. | As a child, Neil dreamed of being recorded in The Guinness Book of World Records. Desiring to be “immortal” with his legacy forever living on, Neil wanted nothing more than to be great. But he could never truly achieve greatness because of his dependency on all things superficial. He believed that with power one could achieve greatness, and to wield power one needed the most expensive shoes, the lavish clothing with a significant starch capacity, the biggest boats, and the fanciest cars. Neil was greedy and took his life and the people who loved him the most for granted. He went too far trying to acquire what he thought would earn his greatness, and he was sentenced to eighteen months in federal prison. He would serve out his sentence at Carville; a leprosy colony recently turned federal prison. When Neil found out he would not only be sharing his new home with inmates but leprosy patients as well, he was horrified. He imagined lepers as “dangerous and grotesque,” overlooking the fact that these people had done nothing wrong but contract a horrifying disease that would disable their bodies. The patients at Carville had no control over the disease eating away at their limbs. They had been alienated from society, from their homes, and from their families because of ignorance like Neil’s. Upon his first encounter seeing the patients, Neil referred to the patients as “them,” as if they were a different species than himself; instead of simply God’s children and his own brothers and sisters. | Kourtney McCorry Rush, N.Y. Class of 2016 | E
17: Thrust into a world much different than his own, Neil was nave and ignorant. He judged because he didn't know what else to do. He was scared and thrust into a world where nothing was familiar to him; everything had been turned upside down and he didn’t know where to turn. The fear and the shock of being placed into a situation where one’s whole sense of security is completely diminished, all familiarity and all sense of self are gone, vanished, aided Neil’s unfair judgments. When the guard told Neil to “Strip down, all of it,” it didn’t just refer to his physical sense; it also referred to his emotional and mental being. It was as if he had to strip away everything that he was taught up to this point, everything he knew; peel back the layers of his life and get down to the bare essentials. Prior to incarceration, Neil thought that a perfect outward appearance would accurately reflect the quality of his work and assure clients that his attention to detail had no boundaries, that he was great at what he did because his appearance said so. What about the people who had no control over their appearance? What about the people whose health had ripped away their physical being? | The patients at Carville had zero control over the way they physically appeared, but they did have control over the way they acted and the way they appeared on the inside. So maybe we should take a lesson from Stan and Sarah, Hansen’s disease patients at Carville, both blind but Sarah trusted Stan to guide her. As Neil said, “people were blinded by their own pre-conceived notions before they had a chance to learn anything factual.” The way a person dresses, the way a person acts, does not reflect that person on the inside. You can’t judge a book by its cover because you never know the history that made that person who they are today. Neil desired to be someone extraordinary, but to be extraordinary one must act extraordinary. One of the patients Neil encounters at Carville, Harry, opens up Neil’s eyes to what truly great men are. | “Harry spent his days doing small, great acts.” True greatness comes from the satisfaction of knowing that you made a difference that benefitted the world, no matter how small that difference might be. In kindergarten you learn the Golden Rule. At that age it is simple to follow that guideline. It is simple to share for the desire to be shared with, it is simple to play with others for the desire to have playmates; but as one gets older the once so simple Golden Rule becomes not so simple. Children are innocent and do not judge by nature; it is when society grips the child and molds that child’s ideas that judgment, prejudice, and ignorance become the child’s playmates. As much as a person would like to think that they are in their own frame of mind, society has played mind tricks on everyone. For example, the once beautiful curves of Marilyn Monroe are now replaced by the size double zero model as the picture of beauty. Society has warped the human brain from its innocence as a child to the dark and twisted judgments adults ‘manufacture.’ You don’t truly know a person until you know their story and you know their history; you can’t truly judge a person by the way they look, talk, or act because it is the appearance on the inside that generates greatness.
18: Stephanie Pikulski Allegany, N.Y. Class of 2016 | Neil White’s book, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, depicts a wide variety of themes and morals. At first glance, one would assume the story is about greed: a story about a man who wanted more than what he needed. However, as I read the book, I found a different lesson. To me, the story reflected a man who was torn from the life he knew and was thrown into a completely different environment where he had to learn to accept people who were different from him, as well as learn a new way of life. In the beginning of the memoir, White was convinced that he would maintain his normal habits, put in his time, and go home. However, he had not experienced people like the patients or convicts. As time at the prison progressed, his outside world collapsed and his prison life became normal. White’s first Mass at the prison church was perhaps the primary realization of the fact that he was not who he used to be; he was no longer considered a desirable man by society. He was an outcast. Another instance of intense self-apprehension was when Father Reynolds explained to White that all of the patients were allowed to leave the colony but they chose not to because of society’s judgments. | N
19: White realized that he, too, would have to face society as an ex-convict. People would judge him, even though his actions did not reflect the type of person he truly was. By the end of the book, White’s life and understanding of the world had changed drastically; his wife left him, he had no money, and he would have to carry his criminal record with him at all times. Despite this, White realized that he had grown as a person. He had become friends with society’s most looked down upon. He had found kindness in a place full of suffering. Like White, the freshman class at St. Bonaventure will have a different experience than what is expected. Many freshmen think they will hang out with the same types of people as they did in high school, do the same activities, and be the same person. However, we will all have new experiences. | We will all be thrown into a situation in which we are not comfortable. We will all have to lean to understand other peoples’ viewpoints. We will all have to feel like a smaller person for a while until we adjust and realize who we really are. Each freshman will have downfalls: a failed test, a fallout with a roommate, or one drink too many at a party. At some point, we will all feel insignificant. Most of us will be lost for the first few weeks of classes. Others will be broken down at different points during the semester. What is important to know is that everyone goes through situations like that and all that can be done is to make the best of them.
20: Kristina Ranieri Hilton, N.Y. Class of 2016 | “ ... the dignity and worth of each and every person and an understanding that each of us is sister or brother to everyone.” | The idea of everyone being brother and sister leads to an interesting concept portrayed by this quote-judgment. Judgment is a basic part of human function. No matter how self-aware some people may be, they will still find a way to judge everyone else around them. This concept is one dear to my heart and that I found was perfectly tackled in In The Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White. | It was almost surreal to me to read a book that had so many identical connections to my life and to read about a person who went through similar steps to reach an identical catharsis as I did. I completely understood Neil’s personal struggles because I have watched and been part of someone else’s adjustment to an entirely new world. My father has been in federal prison for the last 12 years of my life. At the age of six, I was in the same position as Neil’s children. I remember the way my parents struggled to explain what had happened without scaring my brother and I; the way it felt to only see my father every few weekends surrounded by other criminals; and although I was very unaware of the fact that this is how our relationship would be for the next 30 years, I remember the frustration of “daddy being at camp” that little Neil and Maggie felt so strongly. But the difference between my story and his children’s is that theirs ends at a very young age. My story continued for the rest of my life thus far, and that being the case, my real connection is to Neil White. | T
21: Growing up spending hundreds of days and hundreds of hours in a prison has shaped me into who I am today. It’s almost like déj vu to hear of Neil White’s stories of people that he is surrounded by. The reality of the situation is that people in prison are exactly as he described them. They care for no one other than themselves, they have no intention of changing their ways, and they can do just as many illegal activities on the inside as they can do on the outside. So when you are put into this situation, you can go one of two ways: Take your time as an opportunity to change — or take the road so many inmates do and become cold. My father and I chose separate paths. I took my visits with my dad, the pain of our separation, and the introduction to an entirely different array of people as a chance to take a new view on the world as Neil did. It’s so easy to look at a person and assume so many facts about him, but when you are surrounded by people who are constantly being judged and when you are also being judged, it teaches you to take a step back and assess all situations. | At some point in the past years I realized I had no right to judge the people I came into contact with. Bearing the burden of sharing a last name with my father has brought upon more judgment than I could have ever imagined 12 years ago. I realized, surrounded by thousands of convicts, that I was placing judgment upon other people when I was so hurt by the same treatment. The moment of catharsis came to me when I realized that although my father had done some inconceivable things, he was still a great dad, and that opened my eyes to the unfair assumptions that were placed upon both he and I based on one section of a person’s life. In The Sanctuary of Outcasts was a bittersweet read for me. It served as a reminder of the pain that brought me to where I am, as well as a reminder of the lessons I have learned from prison experience. Literature like this is what tells me that I should be grateful for all of the experiences that I have had, good and bad, and it is people like Neil White, Ella, and Harry who can create happiness out of pain that will slowly shape the world in to a more accepting and non-judgmental place.
22: Naudia Saroyan-Dunn Monterey, Calif. Class of 2016 | “So, they told you I have two years to live.” I looked up into stone grey eyes surrounded by hollowed sockets. “What?” I asked. Marina, a four-foot-nine-inch German woman with a jet black bowl haircut, lifted her red swollen hand. Three of her five fingernails were missing from the right hand that now held a Marlboro Light. She looked down at the table as she pulled her hand back. | She asked me in German, “hast du angst von mir?” To this, I replied I didn’t because I thought she was lovely. With that we walked slowly back to her room. Marina Schmidt, at 65, was the youngest resident of Caritas Zentrum Saint Alban, a Catholic retirement home in Germany. During my summers I volunteered every day making friends with the elderly, especially Marina. We would sit and talk and every day Marina had new stories, thoughts or ideas to share with me. When Marina was 60, she had contracted a rare skin disease that had taken her seemingly flawless skin and turned it bright red. Splotches and open sores covered her body. I often watched as nurses bandaged her body and the defeat was visible on Marina’s face. Reading In the Sanctuary of Outcasts brought sadness and joy into my heart because Ella reminds me of Marina. Mr. White’s daily meetings with Ella made me think about the lovely place that Marina and I called ours next to the stone wall and the rose bushes that surrounded the home. | S
23: Neil was changed by his experience in the “prison” as was I. Mr. White realized that the world is a messed up place and in the end family is what is most important, be it blood or the people you choose. I felt as if I had been made to read this book because I could understand his connections and his sadness for these people. Mr. White wrote in the book about how beauty is all in perspective. Once a person gets used to it, it goes away. This is the same with deformities. After the first summer working at Caritas, I saw the elderly for who they were as people. I even began to notice that I felt a strong connection to every character in this book, even Link! Mr. White did an outstanding job of introducing every character, as well as tying them into the story. I especially liked that Mr. White was portrayed throughout the book in different ways. In the beginning, he was a rich, stuck-up man who cared more about money and reputation than morals and his freedom. At the end, Neil was wiser, open-minded and humble. He realized that his appearance was minute in the scheme of things. Ella made a very correct statement, “what peoples think about you ain’t none of your business.” | I understand now why Marina asked me in German that day if I was scared of her. She was scared, herself, of what was happening and she was scared that people hated her, but to me Marina was beautiful. Not to say I was not wary of breathing around her when I first met her, but I learned my lesson. My grandmother used to tell me that beautiful is not always good, but good is always beautiful. Mr. White seemed to learn the meaning of life and the true kindness of man. He was given the gift of sight through God’s eyes and for a moment understood what it truly is to be beautiful, one of the lucky few. Two weeks before graduation I visited the retirement home to say goodbye one last time. As I walked into Marina’s room my heart stopped. Her shelves were bare, her pictures gone. The only thing left in the room was a box full of bed sheets. Before this I had never lost someone who was close to me. I can’t explain the feeling, but when I read how Mr. White described Ella’s death my spirits were lifted. It is okay to miss someone and I know she is in a better place.
24: Our culture today stresses the importance of finding success; one’s own wealth, power, and acquired praise are put on pedestals. Movies, television, magazines, and other forms of entertainment teach the current generation to be self-absorbed and to desire personal success. It has become commonplace to think that one’s reputation is thought of more highly than one’s actions and habits. | Neil White’s compelling memoir, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, teaches us that praise, wealth, and one’s reputation do not define one’s success. It is the act of living truthfully and for the benefit of others that is of the utmost importance. For the past six years, I have had the privilege of attending Camp Guggenheim, a Catholic camp located in Saranac Lake, New York. The camp emphasizes the importance of living for God and for others, and these lessons are very similar to the lessons White learned while serving his prison sentence in Carville, Louisiana. Although Guggenheim is a voluntary summer camp, I can’t help but treasure the life lessons it has taught me: the very themes that are exhibited in White’s memoir. Camp Guggenheim is comprised of a staff of roughly 20 people, all with knowledge of the Catholic faith that far surpasses my own. With their teachings in various workshops at the camp, I have been taught not to be concerned with materialistic and self-centered desires. Everyone is created equal in terms of human dignity, and thus the importance of serving others is enforced in almost every aspect of the camp. | Morgan Statt Marion, N.Y. Class of 2016 | O
25: I have spent one week out of the year for the past six years learning and trying to emulate this very lesson. I couldn’t help but relate to the author as I read this memoir. “I still did not know exactly how to change, but I had discovered some simple truths: A good life with my children did not require wealth. It was vital to be honest, without worrying about my own image. And helping others was more noble than winning awards” (White 212-213). White so eloquently sums up the very teachings that Camp Guggenheim stresses to the hundreds of campers who pass through its gates. Strive to be honest, to be selfless, and to be willing to serve others. When it came time in the memoir for White to leave the Carville prison, I once again was able to relate his experience to my own experiences at Camp Guggenheim. “... Hopeful that I could make up for this year apart. But I was also afraid. Afraid of going back out to a place that held so many temptations for me. Afraid I would make promises I couldn’t keep. Afraid I would try to impress people with how well I would recover from failure” (White 301). Guggenheim, a sanctuary in itself, feels like it is isolated from the rest of the world. Staying there for a week made it easy to live for others and to not worry about my reputation in the eyes of the people around me. | Much like White, I realized how difficult it would be to enter the “real world” again where one’s image and reputation appear to be of the utmost importance. I expressed White’s doubts of continuing to live truthfully and for others once I left the camp, and accepted the fact that this newfound way of life would not be easy. Remembering the positive influences that Camp Guggenheim has had on my outlook on life allows me to strive to live honestly and for others. Although temptations will be ever present as I continue throughout my life, I will look back on my time spent at Camp Guggenheim. I will relish that, in its own special way, the camp was my “sanctuary” for the past six years.
26: As there are people who ridicule those with unique situations, there are also people in society who choose to embrace them and learn a great deal. Neil White was one of these people, and his journey to acceptance is beautifully detailed in his book In the Sanctuary of Outcasts. Although hesitant at first, Mr. White built relationships with the Hansen’s disease patients and realized that they were no different from you or me. I have been blessed with the opportunity to learn this lesson at a very young age. Growing up with a special needs cousin has not always been easy, but it has taught me priceless lessons that have guided me in becoming the young woman that I am today. Mr. White’s relationship with Ella Bounds truly touched me, as I connected with its importance. Matthew, my cousin, has had a similar impact on my life. Although Matthew cannot talk, he has guided me by how he lives. Matthew is a free spirit who refuses to let the attitudes of others upset him. On Mr. White’s first encounter with Ella, she stopped a few feet from him and uttered the incantation “There’s no place like home.” | Jessica Ungaro Grand Island, N.Y. Class of 2016 | We live in a world that tends to be afraid of those who are different. Instead of embracing them, we isolate, mock and even exile them. It is often difficult to defend something that is not status quo, creating a vicious cycle and making the torment of others commonplace. People with diseases and disorders are not often treated as equals in society, and sometimes they are even outcast. | W
27: He was uncomfortable and Ella noticed this, but instead of becoming offended by the treatment she often received she moved to comfort him. She said, “Hope you get back soon, ‘cause there’s no place like home” (White, page 20). Like Ella, Matthew is very perceptive of the feelings of others. When you are upset, he is the first to reach out and hug you, often becoming troubled by whatever is bothering you. Ella was always there when Mr. White had problems, listening to him and offering her wise advice through stories of her own experiences. One of my favorite scenes occurred toward the end of the book. The patients hosted a dance the inmates were not allowed to attend. Ella wanted Mr. White to be her date and was upset by the fact that this could not happen. Mr. White did, however, attend the event, and even wheeled Ella out on the floor to dance with him. He knew what he was doing could get him in trouble, but Ella’s happiness meant more to him than the risk of being caught. | To make the situation more controversial, the Hansen’s disease patients were unhappy with his presence. His gesture to Ella was not an easy or a popular one, but one that created happy memories that would forever stay with her. I understand this desire very well. I would do anything for Matthew, even if it meant I had to put myself in danger to protect him. I don’t always want to dress up like a firefighter in 90-degree heat, or listen to the Brady Bunch soundtrack in the car with my friends in tow, but it means a lot to him so I do. No matter what happens, I will always defend him and fight to see that he is treated fairly. Matthew did not choose to be born with a disability and I refuse to let people degrade him because of it. | This book has solidified the way I feel about fair treatment. Mr. White grew to accept the Hansen’s disease patients despite their deformities, and I have become accepting of everybody despite their limitations. My cousin has made me want to reach out to those in need. He has shown me that love comes in all shapes and sizes, and that from difficulty stems triumph. Neil White was able to grow as a person throughout his prison sentence with the help of Ella and her eye-opening view of the world that shunned her. Like Ella, Matthew has forever changed who I am and who I will become. I cannot thank him enough.
28: “As I pushed Ella into the cool hallway of her dormitory, I realized that for the first time I had touched someone with leprosy” (White 93). | Rosary Hill Terminal Cancer Hospital: This is where I spent eight days of my summer. Was it difficult? At times, yes. Was it a great experience? It was wonderful. How can a terminal cancer hospital be wonderful? Well, my only answer to that would be God. These weren’t cancer patients; these were people just like me. Each person had his own story to tell, and me, I was just glad to listen. By the second day I had four new best friends who, despite language barriers, differences in race, and differences in age, were able to connect more successfully than many people who have all of those factors in common. During my time at Rosary Hill I met a man who, along with an incurable cancer, also had an infectious skin condition. He would always try to make contact with those around him, but his condition prevented people from getting close to him. This man had done nothing to deserve this distance from the closeness and comfort of others, and yet he was an outcast from our world. One day, as my friends and I were near him we saw he had dropped something. | Brianna Wilson East Haven, Conn. Class of 2016 | R
29: I picked it up and gave it back to him, not registering the fact that I had made contact. My friends quickly pointed it out to me and lead me to the nearest bathroom to wash my hands. It was a small gesture, but it meant so much more to him and I was more than happy to help. When White was in Carville he had a very similar situation to mine. Despite being told by the guards to stay away from the leprosy patients, he saw Ella, an elderly patient, in need of help. Upon hearing her voice and seeing her not positioned correctly on her wheelchair, he knew what he had to do. Without giving it a second thought, he went over to her and saved Ella from falling onto the concrete floor. With his arms, he repositioned her. He did this out of love and compassion for Ella. It was not until after this that Neil White realized he had touched a leprosy patient. White and I both did these acts to help someone in need of our assistance. We acted not because we were told to do so, but because it was the right thing to do. It was the innate thing to do; it was the loving thing to do. | The Bible talks much about love and compassion. The Commissioning of the Twelve is one of the best examples of this teaching. “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Matthew 10:8). This is the kind of love White and I shared with these people. We were both blessed to have all we had been given. We were fortunate to have our health and our family, no matter the circumstances at that time. We received those things from God without God asking for anything in return. In the same way that God gave to us, we gave aid to these people without thinking of what we would receive in return. Although putting ourselves in what some may think to be danger, this was only an afterthought for us. That That is beautiful, wonderful, amazing. In the same way as yawning, laughter, and smiles, contact can be contagious. It can bring disease or pain, but it can also bring connections and understanding. Everything in life has consequences and danger, but if we look beyond the judgmental restraints holding us back we can find greater purpose in our contact with humanity.