8/9/2019 Touching Lives in Prison
Touching Lives in PrisonWhen Neil White was sentenced to 18 months for bank fraud at the Federal Medical
Center in Carville, LA, he thought of it as a brief time out. Daddy is going to camp, hetold his 2 children. When he emerged from this combination of prison and leprosarium
(leper colony) on April 24, 1994, he was single and a brokencamper, destined to depend onthe very friends and family he had defrauded. He emerged with a changed heart and arebooted social conscience. His transformation is told in his 2009 book, In the Sanctuary ofOutcasts. Neils guru held no Ph.D. in philosophy or criminal justice, nor was she a socialservices employee at the prison. She was a black, wheelchair-bound, legless leper, EllaBounds. Ella had been brought to Carville by a bounty hunter some 60 years earlier. Sheradiated the spirit of love, died in 1998 and is buried in an unmarked grave outside AbitaSprings, LA.
Neil writes, To my wife, Debbie, a remarkable partner, editor and friend, whostepped in where Ella left off. Ella had 2 words of advice for Neil. Her first words, spoken
while passing him in the corridor on his first day in prison were, Theres no place likehome. Her last words, as his dear friend were, Dont forget to go to church.Corrections officials have become so consumed by policy and procedures and
defending lawsuits filed as creative pastimes that they have lost the human touch. Theatmosphere within prison is one of long, laborious, repetitive routine designed to protectand defend the status quo. At Maine State Prison, as at many penal institutions across theU.S., that insufferable routine is gift-wrapped in a high tech, antiseptic facility that finds bothstaff and prisoners pointing to longevity and aging as their only measurableaccomplishments. It is only when an Ella Bounds, thrown away by family and society,begins to touch lives in quiet, self-sacrificing ways does a spark of life begin to kindlecommunity.
Sometimes an Ella Bounds appears in the form of a security guard who takes thetime to teach a prisoner how to read or listen to his story. Sometimes she appears as a liferwho, instead of feeling sorry for himself, helps a short-timer pull together the resources tobe a success when he gets out. Often she appears as a chaplain or a teacher, a nurse or avolunteer who risks going beyond those carefully drawn lines of protocol to demonstrate, Icare. The loudest voice against caring is a self-righteous public, not yet caught in their owncompromises and indiscretions, who have driven public officials toward a harsh, Spartan,warehousing mentality. The higher you go in the corrections food chain, the more callousand bureaucratic and detached are the players. They live by the numbers. Most have longago lost touch with their own humanity.
Neil White is now in high demand throughout a world seeking human answers toclinical, bureaucratic obsessions. His is a story of the value of the human touch in anotherwise hopeless environment of societys thrown-away citizens convicted prisoners.On September 4, 2008, he wrote these words:
Sometimes I am lost. Other times, I encounter my old friends. And sometimes, I see Ella. Sheglides in her chair down the empty corridors. She sways to music I cannot hear. She reminds me there is no