Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Sanctuary of Outcasts (copy)

South of Baton Rouge sat an obscure little plantation called Indian Camp. Robert Camp ran a highly successful sugar plantation until the Civil War took all his fortunes and left the home and acreage back to the wild. The land was so isolated by the Mississippi River the only inhabitants maintained they had to fight for fishing rights with the mosquitoes who staked their claim in blood.

In 1894 the State of Louisiana took ownership of the property and designated it the Louisiana Leper Home. All Louisiana inhabitants that were diagnosed with the disease were sent to live the rest of their lives in the colony.

“The geography was perfect for outcasts. The plantation was virtually impossible to reach by land: a washed-out road with no outlet, leading to a tiny drop of land that looked like gravity had pulled it into the river’s path. It was known primarily to boat captains who navigated the sharp 180-degree turn in the Mississippi River just south of Baton Rouge.”

At first the residents had to fight with bats and snakes to live within the dilapidated house and slave quarters. They dealt daily with no running water and the very basic in sanitation as they waited for improvements from the state. A doctor from Tulane took notice and requested an order of nuns who arrived in 1896.

By 1914, the site was designated a national leprosarium and President Woodrow Wilson assigned $250,000 for the “care and treatment of people affected with leprosy.”

Today the facility is called Carville and it still houses those unfortunate enough to have contracted Hansen’s disease. On a positive note, the residents are dwindling in number since the disease is lessening and approximately 130 patients now walk the halls.

Because the facility had more beds than occupants, in 1990 the Bureau of Prisons decided to transfer federal inmates to the Federal Medical Center in Carville. On May 3, 1993, Neil White became the newest inmate.

Upon arrival, an inmate cornered him and told him he would be living with lepers now. Oh, and since he was a convict that makes him a lepercon!

Do pick up this fascinating book by Oxford resident Neil White titled In the Sanctuary of Outcasts.

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