Off the Rails explores the criminal justice system’s one track mind

by Peter Wagner, June 18, 2016

I recently had the opportunity to screen a new documentary, Off the Rails that tells the story of Darius McCollum:

“a man with Asperger’s syndrome whose overwhelming love of transit has landed him in jail 32 times for impersonating New York City bus drivers and subway conductors and driving their routes.”

As a boy in Queens, NY, Darius found sanctuary from school bullies in the subway. There he befriended transit workers who taught him to drive trains. By age 8, he memorized the entire subway system. At 15, he drove a packed train 8 stops by himself, making all the stops and announcements.

Over the next three decades, Darius commandeered hundreds of trains and buses, staying en route and on schedule, without ever getting paid. He attended transit worker union meetings, lobbying for better pay and working conditions for a union he didn’t belong to.

Although Darius has never damaged any property or hurt anyone in his decades of service, he has spent 23 years in maximum security prison. Darius’ recidivism embodies the criminal justice system’s failure to channel the passions of a harmless, mentally challenged man into a productive career and purposeful life.

The film demonstrates, through this unique and well-told story, that when confronting people with disabilities, the criminal justice system all too often has a one-track mind.

This is the trailer:

Upcoming screenings are in Provincetown, MA (June 19), Red Bank, NJ (July 7), Toronto Canada (July 20), Woods Hole, MA (August 1) with dates in New York to be added this fall.

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