The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chapter 19 Summary
by Rebecca Skloot

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Chapter 19 Summary


When Deborah Lacks got pregnant at age sixteen, her brother’s wife Bobbette insisted she graduate from high school anyway. Bobbette cared for the baby herself while Deborah attended a school for teenage mothers. Then, after Deborah graduated, Bobbette made her get a job and learn to support herself.

During this period, Deborah’s two older brothers were doing well for themselves. Lawrence, the eldest Lacks boy and Bobbette’s husband, owned his own shop. Sonny had earned his high school diploma, and now he was in the air force. 

Joe, the youngest Lacks sibling and the one who had experienced the most severe physical abuse in childhood, had by far the most problems. He dropped out of school at a young age, and he had repeated run-ins with the law during his teenage years. At eighteen, he joined the military, but he constantly picked fights with the other soldiers and with the officers. Because of this, he spent most of his service term in solitary confinement. Ultimately he was discharged and sent home.

Back in Turner Station, Joe began fighting with a young man named Ivy. One day Ivy beat Joe badly. A couple of days later, Joe stabbed and killed Ivy with one of Deborah’s kitchen knives. For a while, the family helped Joe hide from the police, but he eventually he decided to turn himself in.

At his trial, Joe pled guilty, although the judge advised him not to. She requested his medical and psychological files and sentenced him to fifteen years, a lenient sentence compared to the thirty-year maximum for the crime. Joe went to prison, where at first he spent a great deal of time in solitary confinement because of his continued habit of fighting. Eventually he quieted down, converted to Islam, and changed his name to Zakariyya Bari Abdul Rahman.

Around the time Joe went to prison, Deborah married her long-time boyfriend, Cheetah, and gave birth to a second child. Cheetah fell into a drug habit and began to abuse her physically, but she soon grew fed up with this behavior. She began to fight back when Cheetah hit her. On one occasion, she cut him with a knife. On another, she knocked him down their apartment stairs and locked him outside during a winter snowstorm. He kept returning to her house and beating her until she grew so angry that she made plans to murder him. Bobbette talked Deborah out of this, and Deborah fled home instead. She began working two jobs so she could afford to raise her children alone.