When Issac Bailey '95 was nine years old, his brother, Moochie, killed a man. Moochie, then 22, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
Decades later, Bailey, an award-wining journalist, wrestles with the crime and its consequences through the written word. In a piece for Longreads and The Marshall Project, titled "The Day My Brother Took a Life and Changed Mine Forever," Bailey reflects on race, family ties and the criminal justice system.
Drive the backroads of South Carolina to the small town of Ridgeville, and you'll be greeted by a large, handmade sign reading "Your sins killed Jesus" amid the pine forests and small barns. I grew up traveling those roads but only recently noticed the sign, long after I had stopped caring about sin and consequence or what either of those things means.
Because on April 27, 1982, while I was asleep in a room with a couple of wooden bunk beds, blankets on the floor, and too many brothers, Herbert "Moochie" Bailey Jr. was killing a man named James Bunch a few miles away...
Before Moochie was a murderer, he was something of a savior inside our single-wide, tin-can of a trailer home. He was the son who had protected my mother from an abusive, alcoholic husband. The brother who shielded the rest of us from the bullies down the road and the kids who made fun of my stutter. He insisted that we wear clean clothes whenever we stepped out into the world. He led us on long jogs through our rural, Deep South hometown, St. Stephen–up Russellville Road, past the high school and back–barking out orders in a military cadence. He made us dream of becoming the Bailey version of the Jackson 5, even though none of us could carry a tune. We had the Afros, not the dance moves.
We had stars in our eyes any time we were in Moochie's presence. We were blind to his faults, maybe out of willful ignorance, maybe because he was great at shielding us from his darker side.
"I want people to feel uncomfortable when they read my work, but not attacked," Bailey said in his Game Changer profile. "I don't think there is real growth in comfort, so I try to open up a space for people to see the world in new ways."
Bailey is a 2016 Soros Justice Fellow, 2014 Harvard University Niemen Fellow and the author of the book "Proud. Black. Southern. (But I Still Don't Eat Watermelon in Front of White People)."