Cover image for My brother Moochie : regaining dignity in the face of crime, poverty, and racism in the American South
My brother Moochie : regaining dignity in the face of crime, poverty, and racism in the American South
Publication Information:
New York : Other Press, [2018]
Physical Description:
288 pages ; 22 cm
At the age of nine, Issac J. Bailey saw his hero, his eldest brother, taken away in handcuffs, not to return from prison for thirty-two years. Bailey tells the story of their relationship and of his experience living in a family suffering from guilt and shame. Drawing on sociological research as well as his expertise as a journalist, he seeks to answer the crucial question of why Moochie and many other young black men--including half of the ten boys in his own family--end up in the criminal justice system.
Personal Subject:


Material Type
Shelf Number
Book 306.85 BAILEY 1

On Order

Prescott Public Library1Received on 6/12/18



At the age of nine, Issac J. Bailey saw his hero, his eldest brother, taken away in handcuffs, not to return from prison for thirty-two years. Bailey tells the story of their relationship and of his experience living in a family suffering guilt and shame. Drawing on sociological research as well as his expertise as a journalist, he seeks to answerthe crucial question of why Moochie and many other young black men-including half of the ten boys in his own family-end up in the criminal justice system. What role did poverty, race, and faith play? What effect did living in the South, in the Bible Belt, have? And why is their experience understood as a trope for black men, while white people who commit crimes are never seen in this generalized way?

My Brother Moochie provides a wide-ranging yet intensely intimateview of crime and incarceration in the United States, and the devastatingeffects on the incarcerated, their loved ones, their victims, andsociety as a whole.

Reviews 3

Kirkus Review

A journalist comes to terms with the murder his beloved older brother committed, and a family tries to find some sort of redemption.Bailey refuses to make things easy for either his readers or himself; he avoids pat analysis of the scourge of racism and never settles for simple answers. He implicates himself from the start, confessing that he had felt like murdering his wife and that he was enraged beyond reason at his teenage son, fearing that he would mature into the stereotype of a black thug so feared by society. The author admits that he resisted dating one woman to whom he was otherwise attracted because she was too dark and that he went to a predominantly white college rather than a historically black one even as he resented the entitlement and privilege surrounding him. If racism is partly responsible for the fate of men like Moochie, it could have just as easily been him. Instead, he has been left with what has been diagnosed as PTSD from his brother's incarceration as well as a stutter that he has spent a lifetime trying to overcome. It is difficult to wrench these particulars into a conventional fable or morality tale, and the author doesn't try. Instead, he wrestles with confusion and the contradiction of "how to love a murderer without excusing the murder." Moochie had been a father figure to his younger brother, protecting their mother against the brutalities of the older man who had taken her as his child bride. He murdered a white man brutally and senselessly and has been sentenced to life in prison, where his attitudes on race have hardened. His brother became a journalist, writing about poverty and crime and racism for a predominantly white readership. At first, he wanted to deny Moochie's guilt and prove his innocence, but then he had to make some sort of peace with what Moochie did and try to rise above it.There's a catharsis for all by the end but no smooth path or easy arrival. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* When Bailey (Proud. Black. Southern., 2008) was nine, his brother Moochie, who was as influential on his life as his father, was arrested on suspicion of murdering a white man in his small South Carolina town, launching his family's decades-long involvement with the criminal-justice system. Throughout his successful journalism career, Bailey has grappled with the nuanced racial experiences of the South, where he finds whites who'll pray with him but also espouse racial bigotry. In this deeply moving and powerfully written personal memoir, he opens up about his struggles with severe stuttering, which began after Moochie's sentencing, growing up dirt-poor in a home rife with abuse, excelling in school, and choosing a mostly white, elite college over a historically black college. His unflinching account of his brother's suffering is paired with reflections on community, race relations, and the impacts of poverty, crime, and shame. Bailey also recounts his meeting the sister of the murdered man. Thanks in large part to the strength of his mother, the family has had its share of successes, despite great adversity. Moochie and his tragic story have profoundly shaped Bailey's life and deeply sensitized him to the pressures and traumas facing people of color, and the consequences.--Kaplan, Dan Copyright 2018 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

ISSAC J. bailey was pulling together his memoir at a time when America was in the midst of racial upheaval. Over the past few years, alarming deaths of black people at the hands of the police spawned a boisterous national movement - Black Lives Matter - demanding systemic change. And one of the central tenets of this new era of activism requires that we respect all black lives, those of poor felons no less than those of rich entrepreneurs. It seems a fitting moment, then, for Bailey's book, "My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty, and Racism in the American South," to drop. His story explores the fallout that his large, black South Carolina family experienced after his oldest brother, Herbert, nicknamed Moochie, received a life sentence for murdering a white man in 1982. More than a recounting of the woes of dealing with the justice system in the face of poverty and racism, this searching memoir forces readers to confront a pointed question: Can we see the humanity in black people who have done bad things? Bailey built a career as a journalist, spending much of his career at The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C. With a keen understanding of systemic racism, he often chronicles the injustices visited upon black America. Yet in his book he grapples with his conflicted feelings about Moochie and other family members who got into trouble with the law. He paints the South not as a place of racist boogeymen, but as a complicated society where defining good and bad requires a bit of context. His family initially refused to accept that Moochie had committed the murder. They stressed over his parole hearings. Bailey, who was just 9 when Moochie, then 22, stabbed his victim, developed a severe stutter when his brother went away. Bailey describes his family as a "beautiful black family," even though "none of us are quite sure what to do with the shame that comes with being so closely associated with America's prison industrial complex." To that end, "My Brother Moochie" delves into a rarely explored side of the criminal justice system: the families of the perpetrators. Can we empathize with them? They are often left, as Bailey's family was, wondering how they might have contributed to their loved one's misbehavior, what they could have done differently. That's why Moochie's mother attended the funeral of her son's victim and prayed at the scene of the crime. The Moochie whom Bailey admired as a child was an older brother who stood up to their abusive father and whose checks from the Army helped to sustain the family after their parents divorced. He was the man who told his younger siblings to stay away from drugs even as he grew marijuana. Bailey's mother, Elizabeth, was just 13 when her abusive, alcoholic father handed her over to be married to the man who would become Bailey's father. That man also would drink heavily and beat Elizabeth and Moochie, her first child. Bailey struggles to reconcile feelings of hatred for his father with a sense of how his father might have been affected by growing up in an era when lynchings were common. After Moochie was sent to prison, Bailey and his older siblings went on to lead successful lives, having been able to lean on one another for support. But these siblings were out of the house by the time Bailey's three youngest brothers were coming up; they fell under the influence of the troubled foster children their mother took in. As much as he knows that his brothers are more than their worst acts, "too often I've had to fight the tendency to hate them," he writes. He describes being so angry after the girlfriend of his youngest brother, Jordan, was killed in a drive-by shooting intended for Jordan himself, that he drove his brother to the police station, demanding that he tell the cops everything he knew. "At that moment, I didn't care about questionable police tactics, wanted no part of lectures about young black men being railroaded or about the school-toprison pipeline or talk of justice at all," he writes. "My Brother Moochie" is most powerful in moments like these, when Bailey adds layers of complexity to the views on race reflected in his journalism. He knew some good white people in the South who would be there for him at a moment's notice. Yet the rise of President Trump offered Bailey a sobering reminder that racism still has this country in a chokehold. He was confronted by racist sentiments from white people he thought were friends. Just because white people loved him, he learned, it did not mean that they loved black people. "Be a black man or woman and commit a grave sin, be defined as a monster," he writes. "Be a rich white dude and commit many sins, be welcomed into the White House." JOHN ELIGON is a national correspondent for The Times covering race.