Living With A Brother In Prison In 'My Brother Moochie' Issac J. Bailey's oldest brother murdered a man and spent 32 years in prison. It changed the family forever. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Bailey about his new book, My Brother Moochie.
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Living With A Brother In Prison In 'My Brother Moochie'

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Issac J. Bailey's oldest brother murdered a man and spent 32 years in prison. It changed the family forever. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Bailey about his new book, My Brother Moochie.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

One night in the spring of 1982, a 9-year-old Issac Bailey was asleep in a room with a few of his brothers when the 22-year-old brother he adored, Herbie Moochie Bailey, shot and killed an innocent man, a store owner he'd robbed named James Bunch.

ISSAC BAILEY: It, like - my sense really - actually changed on, like, everything for me.

SIMON: Issac was already struggling with a speech disorder.

BAILEY: I stuttered - (stuttering) - like that. It worsened greatly. And so I actually think that is one sort of reason why that I actually still stutter now.

SIMON: Moochie Bailey confessed, pled guilty and served more than 32 years in prison for murder before he was paroled four years ago. Issac Bailey thinks his brother deserved that sentence. But as he grew up, he found his entire family suffered, too, for being identified with his crimes, as they had to deal with an alcoholic and abusive father.

BAILEY: We were actually forced to, like, actually deal sort of - actually with trauma, like, right on top of the shame.

SIMON: Issac Bailey still struggles with his stutter. You hear that as he speaks. But he became a journalist, a professor and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. He's written a memoir about his brother, his family and the sentences they both served in a new book, "My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity In The Midst Of Crime, Poverty And Racism In The American South."

At one point, as you grew older, you felt you had to pull away from your brother, didn't you?

BAILEY: Yes. Yes. Yes. And that sort of is part of the reason why I actually went to a mostly white college - simply because, I guess, I was actually trying to get away from my blackness. And so even right now, I still actually struggle actually with those kind of racial issues. Yet, I guess, like, in terms of sort of, like, black men and crime together.

SIMON: You're an accomplished man. You're a great writer. And at least on the basis of this book, you certainly seem to be a devoted husband and father. You are not your brother. You're different.

BAILEY: Yes. And, I mean, it's, like, honestly, I actually do not feel different. What I also know is that there is a really, really thin line at least between what is happening to me versus what happened to Moochie. He actually took the worst of my father's beatings - excuse me - and also the poverty - like, everything else. So for me, what I want people to know - I actually made it out. But that actually does not make me that much different from those who actually did not.

SIMON: I've read, obviously, your thoughts along those lines in this book. And they're very eloquently expressed, and I want to respect them. I do respect them. That being said, at some point, doesn't personal responsibility enter into this? I mean, don't we all, at some point, take responsibility for our own lives? Your brother murdered someone. You haven't come close to that.

BAILEY: Sure. Sure. But - yes, and one of the models of my life is to actually not make excuses. Yet, what is also true is the fact that there are some of us who have actually been given many more burdens to carry.

SIMON: Mr. Bailey, what do you tell your son about Uncle Moochie?

BAILEY: Yes. My son Kyle is 16 now, and I actually have been telling him about Moochie, at least for several years. So, like, essentially, I actually tell him the truth because I'm actually trying to make it very clear to my son, I mean, that sort of talent, good looks, etc. are not enough for you to be a good man. You actually have to be willing to sacrifice and work hard, and also to actually steer clear of trouble as well. I think that I was so sort of scared for him out of that, I was actually being sort of too hard on my son.

SIMON: Well, there's a lot of love there.

BAILEY: Thank you.

SIMON: Issac Bailey. His book, "My Brother Moochie." Thanks so much for being with us.

BAILEY: Oh, yes, Sir. And again, thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIGNAL HILL'S "LOS FEDERALES")

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