Darren Rainey died a brutal senseless death at the hands of correctional officers on this day two years ago. He cried out in agony as his skin melted from his body in the searing heat of his death shower. He and his death may have sunk forever into the quagmire that is the Florida Department of Corrections had it not been for a few individuals who refused to let him go.
Even so, what meaning can be taken from his death? Could his death serve as a catalyst for change? Many hope so. Certainly, his death is symptomatic of massive failings in our system of justice. A system that fails to address the needs of the mentally ill. A system that prepares the mentally ill for trial and incarceration with little regard for their mental state when they committed their crimes. A system that bolsters conviction statistics on the backs of people who don't even know what planet they are on sometimes. A system that, for the mentally ill, has a "shoot first, answer questions later" attitude as Mike Mayo of the Sun-Sentinel can attest to in his articles.
On December 17th, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the ultimate act of defiance over his harassment and humiliation by Tunisian officials. His death proved to be the starting point for the "Arab Spring." Could Rainey's death, that Miami Herald Columnist Fred Grimm called "the perfect act of defiance against his torturers," be the starting point for an "American Spring" tightly focused on an overhaul of our justice system?
Will we look back years and years from now and point to June 23rd, 2012 as the day that everything started? Will we proudly point to a system of justice that works for everyone, not just the wealthy? Will we have reduced our prison population, the highest in the world, with common sense initiatives such as Judge Steven Leifman's Criminal Mental Health Program? A program designed to divert mentally ill offenders into community treatment centers rather than dumping them into prison.
Once in prison, will all inmates be treated humanely, including those with psychological issues? Will inmates have access to training and educational programs tailored to men and women who hunger for marketable skills? Will we have sufficient resources on the outside to get them employment and housing to keep them from being swept up once more into a life of crime? Will we have created programs dedicated to raising millions out of a cycle of poverty and crime that formerly fed the belly of the beast?
Our American Spring is a lot to put on the shoulders of one man. Mohamed Bouazizi, smiling from the knowledge his sacrifice made a difference, may have a word or two to say about that. What Darren Rainey's death will mean years from now remains to be seen. Make no mistake, Darren's death will mean something. How much it will mean is up to every single one of us.