Note: Click here to read my story “The Death of Baych Fels” on the Ample Remains website.
Early in the 2018 American fact-based drama Come Sunday, Bishop Carlton Pearson visits an uncle in prison. Carlton is under the impression that his uncle wants to meet with him to be “saved.” Being saved is part of the uncle’s motive, but the type of salvation he seeks is not what Carlton thought.
Prison authorities have found drugs in the uncle’s jail cell. The uncle, who is 70, was scheduled to be released soon but now faces the addition of six years to his sentence, keeping him in prison until he’s 76. He wants Carlton, his nephew, a man of sterling reputation and significant influence, to write a letter to the prison board on his behalf. Carlton refuses. Later, Carlton learns that his uncle committed suicide in prison by hanging. The hanging is one of several threads leading to the dissolution of Carlton’s traditional Christian theological thinking concerning the nature of punishment and salvation.
The uncle’s death by hanging reminded me of a stanza from Oscar Wilde’s poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol. The stanza alludes to a “suicide watch,” and, perhaps, a perverse motivation for it.
He does not sit with silent menOscar wilde, the ballad of reading Gaol, excerpt from Part I
Who watch him night and day;
Who watch him when he tries to weep,
And when he tries to pray;
Who watch him lest himself should rob
The prison of its prey.
From time to time, I come across a report of a prisoner committing suicide in jail. The modus is frequently identified as hanging. In some cases, the prisoner is notorious; the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein is a prominent recent example. Epstein was found hanging in his cell on August 10, 2019.
In other cases, the person might be someone I learned about earlier through a brief report or video clip only to hear of their death by suicide later. Sandra Bland, 28, for example, was arrested July 10, 2015, for a minor traffic violation and found hanging in her jail cell three days later. I learned of Bland’s case by first watching a video of her arrest.
The Epstein and Bland cases were articles of scrutiny and interest to many people. But what happens to someone like Baych Fels, a John Doe, a vagrant who sometimes drinks a little too much and winds up in jail, out of the public eye?
Sydney Leibfritz and Carlos Zayas-Pons describe Ample Remains, their online literary journal, as one “fixated on the things that remain and live within us.” They are looking for the kind of work “inspired from the thoughts that refuse to withdraw from the creases of your brain until you translate them into something legible.”
I am honored that they read, selected, edited, and published my story “The Death of Baych Fels,” a tale about a young man haunted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of his beloved great-uncle. The story originated in a news report I heard on my car radio in the spring of 1972.
All the best,