Neil was an ambitious man, with a lovely wife and two small children, living the good life down south. He published a newspaper in his hometown, started several magazines, then bought out another magazine. Unfortunately, he overextended himself financially, then attempted to cover it up by kiting checks (transferring funds between bank accounts that didn’t have enough money to cover the checks). A bank audit revealed his deception, and Neil found himself sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for bank fraud.
The prison he was assigned to was unusual, to say the least. The Federal Medical Center in Carville, Louisiana served a dual purpose. It was both a federal prison for low-security inmates, and home to the last colony of leprosy patients in the United States. At first Neil was shocked, repulsed, and afraid he would contract the disease. But as time went by, he befriended his leprous neighbors, and learned a lot from some of them, especially an older woman named Ella.
The author is a talented writer, with the ability to find wit and humor even in a prison setting. I loved his description of the inmates and patients around him, so diverse yet able to live together in a mostly peaceful fashion. The historic background included about the compound at Carville helped explain this unique situation. Another thing I enjoyed about the book was Neil’s reflection on his mistakes. He took a hard look at his life and was able to see how his decisions and choices had landed him in prison. By the time he was released, Neil had his priorities straight.
I should mention that there was a fair amount of f-words in this biography. Both of Neil’s roommates were quite vulgar, but it probably would have been difficult to convey the atmosphere of Carville with all language removed. Aside from that, it was a wonderful read. This biography reminds me that God often gives us second chances and ways to start over in life.
Excerpt from chapter 4:
“We turned a corner, and I caught a glimpse of four or five nuns as they hurried into one of the buildings. Through a corridor window, I saw a small monk riding a bicycle through a pecan grove. This place was bizarre, like something out of Alice In Wonderland or The Twilight Zone. Nuns and monks. A leper with no fingers. A man who howls like a dog. A doctor with an impotence injection device. Inmates fat enough to be in a carnival. A guard who squelches my questions, but seems just fine with prisoners sunbathing. And a legless woman chanting like Dorothy in Oz. How the hell did I end up here?”