My Brother Moochie Summary
My Brother Moochie is a 2018 memoir by Issac J. Bailey about his brother’s incarceration, his own experiences as a Black man, and the broader history of racism in America.
- When Issac was a boy growing up in South Carolina, his beloved older brother, Moochie, killed a store owner and received a life sentence in prison for murder.
- Moochie’s imprisonment tore the Bailey family apart and traumatized Issac.
- Issac’s narrative traces his maturation, including his struggles with his stutter, his development as a writer, and the lasting effects of his childhood trauma.
Last Updated November 3, 2023.
Journalist Issac J. Bailey opens his 2018 memoir, My Brother Moochie, by discussing a pivotal point in his life. His older brother Herbert, known as Moochie, was sentenced for murder, an event that effect the family immensely. While Issac suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), his youngest brothers ended up on the wrong side of the law. As an adult, Issac’s lingering PTSD caused him to pathologize his own son and experience disturbing visions of murdering his wife, Tracy. It was in therapy that Issac began to see the connection between Moochie’s arrest, the traumatic childhood of the Bailey siblings, and the role systemic racism played in the fates of Issac’s brothers.
The eleven Bailey siblings grew up poor in the small town of St. Stephen’s in South Carolina. Issac’s earliest memories of his parents involve his father beating up his mother, Bet, and Moochie coming to her rescue. Despite growing up amongst such violence, the athletic, charismatic Moochie was considered a success until in his late teens and was idolized by his younger siblings. However, in 1982, Moochie got high on drugs and alcohol and allegedly stabbed local store owner James Bunch to death. By that time, Bet had left Issac and Moochie’s father and married Harris McDaniel. After Moochie confessed to Bunch’s murder, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Issac and Moochie’s father died soon after. Though the family wanted to believe Moochie was coerced into the confession, all evidence pointed to Moochie’s culpability, a fact that was sealed with Moochie’s own admission to Issac years later. Monstrous as Moochie’s crime was, Issac now understands it did not make Moochie a monster.
Moochie’s arrest had another devastating effect on Issac: his already-present stutter worsened, making him the target of much playground bullying. In prison, Moochie turned to Afrocentric Rastafarianism, took on the name Mtume Obalaji Mfume, and began to promote Black solidarity to his brothers. Ignoring the fact that Issac’s silence was largely due to his stutter, Moochie urged him to speak up, saying the world needed more Black voices to be heard. Issac felt overwhelmed by the pressure. Young Issac also had trouble adjusting to Moochie’s worldview, which categorized all white people as tyrants.
However, the adult Issac can contextualize Moochie’s radicalism. Moochie’s suspicion of white people was grounded in the reality of racial injustice. So pervasive was white supremacy that as a teenager, Issac himself mimicked some of society’s racist attitudes, such as when he felt that a girl to whom he was attracted was too dark-skinned.
To come to terms with Moochie’s crime, Issac reached out to Bunch’s sisters, Mary Hilton and Malvenia Litchfield. Issac learnt that like the Baileys, the Bunches were a working-class family who had lost many of their members to violence. The similarities underscored for Issac an important fact of Southern society: working class whites and Blacks have much in common with each other. Although Hilton accepted Issac’s apology on Moochie’s behalf, she was not comfortable advocating for Moochie’s parole. Issac was forced to accept the fact that his naïve dream of bringing the Bunches and Baileys together would have to be abandoned. Though Issac understood Hilton’s anger towards Moochie, he could not overlook the fact that the criminal justice system is oriented more towards retribution than reformation. Moochie’s crime was not premeditated; it was an irrational act committed in a drug-induced haze. By treating Moochie as a sociopath, the criminal justice system was ensuring that he—and others like him—would not integrate back into society. This is accentuated by the fact that ideas of justice differ for Black and...
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white people in America.
Many of adult Issac’s insights about racism in America stem from his experience in college. Having chosen the prestigious, largely white institute of Davidson College over a historically Black college like Howard, Issac felt overwhelmed by the subtle racism at Davidson. His white peers often insinuated that Black students would not end up in Davidson without affirmative action, and they affected racial blindness. Seeing his own internalized shame reflected in the attitudes of his white peers, Issac started to write about race relations for the college newspaper. Writing freed Issac from the illusion that his stutter would prevent him from being an effective communicator. While Issac’s voice grew more assured, in prison Moochie was lapsing into silence.
As part of his Afrocentrism, Moochie grew dreadlocks, and took a vow of silence to stand up to the system, for which he was often condemned to solitary imprisonment. When Issac and Tracy, then in a committed relationship, visited Moochie in prison to assess his readiness for a parole hearing, Moochie was fresh off an almost four-year-long stint in solitary confinement. Moochie’s agitated body language made Tracy wonder if Moochie was even ready to be released from prison. Meanwhile, Issac began to work as a reporter in Myrtle Beach, where his series of stories on homeless people earned him accolades. Issac’s editors suggested he address his stutter to further his career, a concept which discomfited Issac. To Issac, his stutter no longer seemed an impediment. Still, on Tracy’s insistence, Issac attended the Hollins Institute for Speech in Virginia, where he learned that most stutters were physical, rather than psychological, in origin. Though Hollins did not permanently resolve Issac’s stutter, it did help him become a far more effective communicator on stage. Issac realized that compromising for one’s own good doesn’t mean betraying one’s principles—a lesson Moochie, too, needed to learn.
Moochie’s first parole hearing was held in August of 2000. However, he was denied parole, much to the disappointment of the Baileys. To Issac, Moochie’s refusal to cut off his dreadlocks was a factor in the refusal. Over time, Moochie started wearing his hair in a close-cropped cut, yet he was denied parole again and again. As Moochie awaited parole, the youngest Bailey brothers—James, Zadoc, and Jordan—got deeper into trouble with the law. When Jordan’s girlfriend, Kim, was killed in a drive-by shooting meant to target Jordan, Issac was filled with frustration and anger against a system designed to make families like his repeat history. He was enraged at Jordan and his other younger brothers as well, believing they deserved no sympathy.
Over time, Issac began to see how their different upbringing played a role in forcing his youngest brothers into the criminal justice system. By the time James, Zadoc, and Jordan grew up, the older, stabler siblings like Issac, Doug, Willie, and Sherrie had left home. Though Harris was a positive role model, Bet’s welfare work brought the youngest Baileys in contact with many people suffering from addiction. Further, as Zadoc would tell Issac, breaking the law became a way for the youngest Baileys to prove their toughness, as well as a way for them to connect with Moochie, their absentee father figure. Zadoc eventually proved that there can be life after the criminal justice system. After being released from prison, Zadoc went on to build a stable career and family, raising hope for the youngest Baileys.
In 2014, almost thirty-two years after he was arrested for murder, Moochie was finally granted parole. By now, Issac had developed a rare autoimmune disorder which affected his nerves. Research shows that people like Issac, who experienced traumatic childhoods, are more susceptible to chronic diseases in their forties and fifties. Amid his troubles, Moochie’s release seemed a benediction to Issac. Although the conditions of Moochie’s release were strict, Moochie was overjoyed to be out in the world and around family. Issac concludes his memoir with the hope that the criminal justice system will change so that Black men like Moochie are reformed rather than punished. Issac also allows himself to love Moochie and his brothers, while acknowledging their troubled history. Without accepting and loving his brothers, Issac himself can never be whole.