A former drug dealer and ex-con chronicles how he became involved in the criminal underworld and managed to escape a wrongful death sentence for murder.
Bright grew up in the 1970s and ’80s in the Florida Projects in New Orleans, where “everything a kid needed to enjoy himself didn’t work.” Although his truck-driving father came from a well-to-do family of strict Jehovah’s Witnesses, his mother came from a line of “alcoholics, armed robbers, hustlers.” Bright found himself drawn to the separate worlds—one reputable, the other shady—that each parent represented. As a young boy, he began working with Goldy, a well-connected Florida Projects drug dealer. Goldy eventually realized Bright could run his entire organization beyond the neighborhood level and put him in touch with a Miami-based Colombian drug king. By age 16, Bright became an even more powerful drug dealer than Goldy, with clients that included lawyers, musicians, and professional athletes. The square/shady dichotomy that characterized his family carried into his personal life, which included two women: one a “square” with whom Bright created a relaxed family world and the other a street hustler who actively helped Bright with his business. When a “wino,” secretly working with a New Orleans police department that “wanted [him] off the streets,” accused him of a murder he didn’t commit, Bright went to jail for nine years. He spent four of those years on death row at the notoriously brutal Angola prison, where conditions were “filthy [and] medieval.” Only after a lawyer working for a humanitarian legal organization took his case was Bright finally able to find justice, which in the end only included exoneration and no public apology for having received an unfair trial. Gritty and raw, Bright’s narrative is as fascinating as it is disturbing for what it reveals about the dark, racist underside of the American justice system.