Henry Morales

Immersed in "A Lesson Before Dying"

A Lesson Before Dying is a book by Ernest J. Gaines that is about a young man, Jefferson, who is found guilty of murdering three people early on in the novel. Although it was never revealed whether or not he actually did it, he was sentenced to death. A teacher named Grant was tasked with making him into a “man” so that he wouldn’t die as what he was called in the courtroom—a “hog.” Grant did not want to go through with this task, but he was only up for it because his aunt asked this of him. In the end, he is the one who develops the most in his interactions with Jefferson. This novel does an amazing job at teaching us—the readers—a very valuable lesson that we might not always see during our darkest times. Loved ones—whether it’d be friends or family—those who are truly closest to us will always be there for us, just as we will always be there for them.


We traveled to the False Lake area of Pointe Coupee Parish in Louisiana. Our primary goal was to tour the Court House and Prison there in Pointe Coupee. Upon arrival to the courthouse, we were met by a statue/shrine of John Archer Lejeune, a very decorated legend amongst those who have served in the Marine Corps often revered as the world’s greatest marine. Right in front of the statue was a plaque that told his amazing story of servitude. He served in the Marine Corps for over forty years. Amongst his extremely compelling resume stands his leadership of the famous 2nd Division American Expeditionary Force during World War I. He retired as a Major General on the 10th of November in 1929 and was later advanced to Lieutenant General while on the retired list in February of 1942. This marked history, for he was the first marine to ever achieve this rank. Today his name is still a large every day part of the Marine Corps because they named the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina after him. On an info card by his statue, there is a reminder of the proper pronunciation of his name because most people today pronounce it incorrectly. They state that the proper pronunciation is ‘Le-JERN,’ which is not the way I pronounced it throughout my life. I am glad that I came across this shrine, for not only do I know more about an important piece of Marine Corps history, but I also have a good story to tell my buddies who currently serve in the Marine Corps.

When we were invited in to the court house, we were shown directly to a small entrance that leads to a very old elevator, which was used to take inmates up to the jail area where they held inmates within the Pointe Coupee area. The elevator was very small and intimidating in a way, just thinking of what it meant to be riding that elevator back when the jail was in use. When we stepped off of the elevator and into the old jail, the immediate sense of heat is overwhelming. It is not air-conditioned and is on an upper-floor, which to me says that it must become an oven in extremely hot weather. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be an inmate there, and knowing that it was used up until 1989 is astonishing to me. The only reason they retired its use is because they built a new one, meaning that it is possible that it could have still been in use to this day had a new one not been built. Having been reading through “A Lesson Before Dying,” one can see Jefferson sitting in one of the cells down the hall, as he waits for the date of his inevitable doom.

Standing in the cells, although I know I am not actually an inmate, makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. Nothing to do but to sit in a hot cage with the only outside time being spent small portions in yet another small area that was walled off. There was writing on the walls in some of the cells which were of counting, what I can only assume is the amount of days an inmate spent in the jail. When I saw this writing, I couldn’t help but to take a moment and appreciate how blessed I am to be free. We were then showed a particular cell which was the only cell which women were held and was also used for hangings. When I saw the area that was used for hangings and noticed the piece of floor that would open up, my stomach dropped and a sense of sadness filled me. Visiting this old jail was a very unique experience that definitely made me appreciate my freedom.

Pictured at the head of the table is Sheriff Beauregard “Bud” Torres

Pictured at the head of the table is Sheriff Beauregard “Bud” Torres

Immediately after the emotionally-draining jail visit, we went back downstairs and visited the standing Sheriff, Sheriff Beauregard “Bud” Torres. Thankfully, Sheriff Torres managed to squeeze meeting us into his very busy schedule. We spent some time conversing with him about what brought us to Louisiana and our bookpacking activities. He was very delighted to meet a new bookpacking group and he even played us some of his music. I really enjoyed listening to his music then, and have continued listening to his music ever since! When it was time to go off to see the court room, I stayed behind and spoke to Sheriff Torres for a while. We spoke about his music and the history of Louisiana and the area around Pointe Coupee. He even educated me on my family name. I really enjoyed our conversation and hope to see his reelection in October 2019!


When I left Sheriff Torres’s office, I went on my way to search for my bookpacking group, for I was left behind. I knew that they had headed for the courtroom, so I asked a janitor that I happened to stumble by for directions. She then jokingly asked me for five dollars in exchange for directions. We had a conversations about the bookpacking concept and had a few laughs. A good sense of humor seems to be a reoccurring theme in Louisiana. Afterwards she pointed me towards the second floor, where the courtroom was and I was finally reunited with my group. Since the courtroom is actually still in use today, it has been kept up. This didn’t stop me from having that sense of satisfaction from standing in the same room that Jefferson from “A Lesson Before Dying” was standing in when he was called a “hog” by his lawyer.

All in all, I really enjoyed my time in Pointe Coupee, despite the heaviness of visiting the jail. I especially enjoyed meeting Sheriff Torres and all the people at the courthouse. The people really make the entire Southern experience that I am loving. People here are so wholesome and genuine, which I can’t always say for the people I meet back in Los Angeles. Louisiana is a much slower (taking it easy) and warmer environment (both with the weather and the people).

Interview with a Stranger

In the days before coming to New Orleans, our group begun reading “Interview with the Vampire” by Anne Rice. This book does an astounding job at painting a picture in the mind of the reader of an old New Orleans in a world where Vampires exist. Great descriptions of a gothic and gloomy-feeling New Orleans that engage the reader, especially when I can look out the window of the little café—at which I am reading the book—and see rain clouds begin to pour rain that remind me only of the number two pencils I used to use in elementary school. Rain here in Louisiana is unlike the rain I see in California—It’s sporadic and strong, whereas California rain begins light and gradually gets stronger, but hardly ever as strong as this rain. Although this book—to me—was hard to read at times because of what I can only describe as pedophilia (I’ll explain this a bit more following this paragraph) between a vampire with a 5-year-old little girl’s body and two vampires with older male bodies, it was an overall good book and I can appreciate why it sells really well in bookstores all around New Orleans (two of the bookstores I went to were fresh out of copies).

On my claim of pedophilia in “Interview with the Vampire:”

A vampire by the name of Claudia was converted into a vampire at the age of five, and because of the way the vampire conversion method works in “Interview with the Vampire,” her body never aged past that, although her mind does. Despite it being made clear that she is an adult stuck in a child’s body, I cannot refrain from finding it repulsive that she is spoken of in a sexual manner on several occasions throughout the book. This was the largest obstacle I came across as I read this book. Apart from this, I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Interview with the Vampire” for the famed book it is.

One Conversation: Stranger to Friend

Much like the style introduced at the very beginning of “Interview with the Vampire,” I decided to conduct my own interviews with strangers I meet while in New Orleans. Not only do I want to get a sense of what people think of New Orleans, regardless of whether or not they are locals. In a separate blog, I will be conducting similar interviews with members of my bookpacking group. I find it very interesting to pick at peoples’ brains and explore the many diverse points of views people have. I don’t enjoy having scripted conversations, and therefore I will be playing all of the conversations by ear, letting my questions flow out according to the situation. I believe this will come off as more genuine and more comfortable for both parties. In an ideal world, I would have gotten pictures with my conversation buddies, but I did not want to impose too much, as they were already kind enough to agree to being in my blog.

To kick off my stranger to friend series, I will be introducing Chris, who I met at a place called “Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant.” Lucy’s is located nearby our bookpackers living quarters, the Lafayette Hotel on St Charles Ave. right next to the Lafayette Square, which hosts weekly community concerts on Wednesdays (more on the great sense of community I have felt in Louisiana later).

Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant, New Orleans.  Source:  https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/05/fa/23/9a/lucy-s-retired-surfers.jpg

Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant, New Orleans.

Source: https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/05/fa/23/9a/lucy-s-retired-surfers.jpg


I met Chris when I headed over to the bar at Lucy’s and sat on the barstool right next to him, he was the only one sitting at the bar who was there alone and looked like he was willing to engage in a chat. Chris appeared to be in his early to mid 40s. As I sat there looking at their shelves deciding what cocktail I would like to order, I looked over to him and noticed him glancing at the television every now and then as highlights of the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks game ran on ESPN. “You much of a basketball guy?” I asked. “Yea, basketball’s pretty cool,” he replied. “Assuming you don’t root for these two teams normally, who would you root for to win this series (referring to the NBA playoffs that were going on at the time) and why?” I asked. To which he replied “well…I’d love to see the Celtics take it all and that’s mainly because I actually live in Boston, ha-ha.” “Oh! That’s cool, I am also rooting for the Celtics because I became a fan when they played the Lakers while I was in middle school going against all my friends who rooted for the Lakers. I like choosing the opposing team to my friends because it makes things much more fun. It’s partly why I am a Clippers fan, but you know how they ended up (as usual)…How is life in Boston? How do you love being part of a winning city (referring to the continuous victories of their teams: Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox)?” I replied. “HA! Well I gotta say it’s pretty great, but I’m a Saints fan. I was born in Louisiana and I’ve always been a Saints fan…So the Clippers huh? Ouch.” “Yep, I’m a Clippers fan who is salty that we never got a chance to do anything really significant while we had a great lineup with Lob City (referring to DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin core) ha-ha. I’m actually a Saints fan myself, despite spending my entire life in Los Angeles. I never warmed up as closely to the Rams and I would have rather seen the Saints take on the Patriots in the super bowl, but they were robbed (referring to the 2019 Rams and Saints game prior to the super bowl)!” “Really? That’s interesting. I guess you have to root against the Celtics here with me then!” We continued talking about sports for a while longer and then I transitioned to speaking about what it was like to live in Louisiana growing up. “What was it like growing up here? Are people always this nice here?” I asked. “It was nice, definitely a completely different vibe from Boston, but lots of friendly people in both. Not the biggest fan of the weather here. Things haven’t changed too much here from when I was a kid, a lot of the same.” I then asked him something I always like to ask people I converse with at bars. “Okay, looking at only the bottom shelf, if you had to choose one bottle to drink for the rest of your life, which would it be?” “that Absolute Vodka on the rightmost corner” he said as he pointed at the bottle. “What about you?” he asked. “Oh, always the Jameson. I love that stuff more than anything in this entire bar, actually. Can’t really ever go wrong with it.” I replied. “So, are you not a whiskey guy?” I asked. “No way. I pretty much only drink vodka ever. Can’t stand much else.” He asked me what I was doing there wearing USC gear and I explained the idea of bookpacking and found out he went to Florida State University. Him and I ended up staying at the bar conversing until closing and ended up telling me to give him a call if I was ever in Boston.

The Anonymous Woman at Lucy’s

In the same bar, Lucy’s, I met a woman who agreed to be a part of my blog, but would like to go on unnamed. I walked over to the bar to order a Jack Daniels with Coke, but ended up getting called from a few barstools away. I walked over and this woman, who appeared to be in her early thirties, said to me “I’ll give you five-hundred dollars if you take that jacket off and give it to me.” “What, are you planning on throwing it away? UCLA girl or do you just not like SC?” I replied. “No no no! I love USC, I actually wanted it for myself. A lot of my family went to USC, but they ended up rejecting me when I applied. I was devastated and sort of never got over it. I performed average in high school and scored less than ideal on the ACT. So, what do you say, will you sell me your jacket?” to which I replied “I’m sorry, but I can’t sell it. This jacket actually belongs to my roommate’s father…he let me borrow it because I own nothing like it.” “WOW! You wouldn’t sell it for five-hundred dollars? You can buy a few of those with that! Come on, you can buy him a new one, one for yourself, and keep the rest! However, I respect that. I was actually just joking! Had you accepted my offer, I would have gone down to my real price of fifty dollars ha-ha. How ‘bout the hat? I’ll give you thirty and a drink for it.” “Not for sale either! This is my favorite hat and it’s really sweaty, you don’t want it.” She asked me what I was doing there and I explained the bookpacking concept to her, which she loved. “Wow, now I’m even more sad that I didn’t get into USC! That sounds like such fun!” she said. “Are you from New Orleans?” I asked. “No, but I visit at least once a year with my friends” she replied. “What do you think of New Orleans?” I asked. “I love it here! This city never seems to sleep when it comes to night life and throwing beads off of balconies is the most fun! You definitely have to try it if you haven’t yet” she said. We ended up having a very entertaining conversation about college football and even had one of her friends join us. As the night grew older, she went to close out her tab and I noticed the Buffalo Bills logo on her credit card. “No way! Nobody ever recognizes their logo! I actually work for the Buffalo Bills franchise. I’ve been a fan ever since I got the job. “Wow that’s amazing! That explains your vast knowledge of football” I replied. Although her friends were calling for her to leave with them, she made time for giving me advice on possibly exploring a career within the sports industry.

Louisiana and the Sense of Community

Because I wear USC gear a lot of the time, I often get questions along the lines of “what brings you all the way over here?” And when I explain the concept of bookpacking to them, they love it and ask more questions about it. I am extremely blessed to have the opportunity to do this as part of coursework for school.

The most precious thing that I have gotten on this trip thus far is a great sense of community and the famed southern hospitality. As I’ve interacted with people in Louisiana, I couldn’t help but to notice how much of a sense of warmth I get. Everyone here is so kind and willing to engage in conversation. Having lived in the greater Los Angeles area all my life, I am not accustomed to greeting every single person you walk by. Whether it’s a simple smile with a head nod or an enthusiastic “hello,” you can’t pass someone by without at the very least acknowledging each other. And I’m finding myself unable to express how much I love this apart from reciprocating the genuine greetings. This is far better than any old souvenir. This is something special that becomes part of you and I cannot wait to bring this back with me to California and hopefully brighten peoples’ days.