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D'Angelo Barksdale's murder on 'The Wire' raises concern about prison suicide

 (L-R) Actors Liev Schreiber, Sonja Sohn and Larry Gilliard Jr. arrive for HBO's 'The Wire' screening May 29, 2003 at Chelsea 9 cinema in New York City.
Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Only three people seemed to be convinced that D'Angelo Barksdale actually committed suicide while doing his 20-year prison term: his mother Brianna Barksdale, the mother of his child Donette and his uncle Avon Barksdale.

Donette was so busy getting close to Stringer Bell that it was easy to believe why she took the news at face value. Brianna was more concerned with paying her own bills and keeping drug life in the family, and it took Detective Jimmy McNulty's guilt trip to make her finally voice sincere concern about the death of her son.

But it always seemed a bit odd that Avon, who had major power within the prison, believed that D'Angelo really did kill himself. There had to be a level of arrogance that set in with Avon thinking no one could possibly be smart enough or brave enough to cross him or his family so D'Angelo had to do it on his own. Observers already saw what happened when someone dared to give D'Angelo drugs to make the time go by.

But during Season 2 on Episode 6 "All Prologue," this raises ongoing questions about how prisoners have the time to be able to try to end their lives. Some are able to go through with it (ex. Ohio's kidnapper/rapist Ariel Castro) while others have luck on their side no matter how drastic the measures are (ex. New Hampshire's bank robber Phillip Gage). And while D'Angelo is not a real person and chose drugs over suicide, there are plenty of real people in prisons and out of prisons who do decide to end their lives too early.

National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide (NOPCAS) reports that Baltimore's most recent statistics rank the suicide rate at 8.9 percent per 100,000. (Homicides are higher with a death rate of 43.3 percent per 100,000.)

The three most common suicide mechanisms are with firearms, poison (predominantly drug overdoses) and suffocation (mainly hanging). And although D'Angelo was strangled with a belt, he was already living dangerously by sneaking into his cell to do drugs on occasion.

According to CDC, statistics from 1999 to 2010 show that both white men and women are more likely to commit suicide than any other race. The numbers for white men drastically increased from 9,599 to 14,379. For black men, the numbers slightly increased from 631 to 766. For white women, the numbers increased from 2,937 to 4,469. For black women, the suicide numbers are the lowest between the four at 141 to 204.

American Indian/Alaska Native had the lowest suicide numbers of all races between these years.

According to Suicidology:

  • African Americans are less likely to use drugs during a suicide crisis.
  • The behavioral component of depression in African Americans is more pronounced.
  • Some African Americans express little suicide intent or depressive symptoms during suicidal crises.

In the prison system, the responsibility of making sure that prisoners do not commit suicide is the responsibility of guards and medical professionals. For civilians, it's much easier to reach them before it's too late. Or, at least try to.

Whether topics like this trigger concern on television or from familiar people, contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for more information.

Shamontiel is the Scandal Examiner and the National African American Entertainment Examiner, too.

Follow Shamontiel on Pinterest for all of her latest TV, book, music and movie reviews; photo galleries; entertainment news and other entries, or subscribe to her The Wire Examiner channel at the top of this page. Also, follow her @BlackHealthNews, and follow this Pinterest board to read her celebrity interviews.

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