On paper, Darius McCollum is the kind of repeat offender that our crime-and-punishment elected officials want to use as reason for harsher sentences. He's been arrested 19 times and has served more than 30 years behind bars. Every time he gets out, he does it again. But in this documentary, he is a poster boy for the unadulterated failure of our ill-named "corrections" system and of our collective inability to find a place in society for those who don't fit the mold.
McCollum's true love is transit. From an early age, he displayed a savant's proficiency at understanding the tangled web of the New York City subways and buses. He found solace from schoolhouse bullies and welcome in the routine, and befriended drivers who encouraged his interest.
In an era before Asperger's syndrome was part of the mental health parlance, his first incarceration at a hospital didn't lead to help or coping skills, but a heavy dose of Thorazine. And since trains seem to be the best medicine, his parents sprung him from the psych ward. His first arrest came at age 15, though, and even though he had made all the stops and announcements on the subway he drove, the law didn't take kindly to his volunteer service.
The story would repeat itself with variation through his adult life. Actions like impersonating transit workers, driving trains and buses or using keys he'd acquired to enter restricted areas like dispatch towers never resulted in anyone getting hurt—just him being what the newspapers called "a train in the neck" to enforcers.
What's the most tragic about McCollum's story is that if, at age 17, someone had overlooked his differentness enough to give him a job driving a bus or a train or some other task as part of a cog in the system that held his passion, he might have spent his life truly serving. It's easy to imagine seeing this guy every day on your way to work and letting his smile drive you along.
Instead, he's caught in the revolving door of prison, probation and poverty. He doesn't steal trains for money—he does it because it feels good to him. It makes him happy. That's the ticket. (JAG)
+ Deeply personal, hits all of what ails society
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Off the Rails
Jean Cocteau Cinema, NR, 86 min.