The Day We Died
One October, there was a car crash on my college campus. Ambulances rushed in, paramedics pulling bodies and injured victims out while a shocked crowd assembled from the various classrooms. Everything happened in slow motion as my friends realized who was in the car. The driver survived, and was booked for D.U.I. Police escorted the students back into their classrooms to talk.
I was not one of the students involved in the crash, but I died later on that day as a result of drunk driving. The "crash" was actually a planned and staged activity as part of a program called "Every 15 Minutes". Only a few of us students knew about the program beforehand. The majority of the crowd who piled out of the buildings to the "crash" site thought that it was real, and the injuries of the accident "victims" were made-up to look as real as possible. When the students were escorted back into class, the police officers explained that it wasn't real. Everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief; then reality set in again as the officers explained that what had happened and the emotions that everyone felt were exactly how people responded to a real drunk driving accident. Some students wiped away tears, others hugged classmates. There were open discussions about how we all had just reacted, about injuries, the stages of grief, and many other aspects of the "crash" and emotional aftermath.
Starting at the time of the crash, 9:00 am, a fellow college student dressed as the Grim Reaper came around to our classes and pulled out people every 15 minutes. I was one of the students pulled out of class. I changed my clothes to all-black, painted my face white, and got a sign saying "Silent Witness" with the date and time I died. I went back to class and went through my day without talking (except when necessary to answer professors' questions), as did the others who were selected by the Grim Reaper. My friends tried to get me to smile, laugh, make any sound at all, but I refused. At lunchtime, then at dinner, those of us who were "dead" sat together and ate while our friends ate at their usual tables.
In the evening, there was a workshop in the cafeteria for those who wanted to build a wall of paper bricks symbolizing friends and family who had died as a result of drunk driving. Those of us who had been "dead" were now allowed to talk again, and many of us participated in building the wall. On each brick was the name of the person who was killed, their age, and how they were killed (including if they had been the driver, a passenger, or other). In most cases, the friend or family member was not the driver. The wall of bricks was taped to the cafeteria wall for people to view the next day.
There was another round-table discussion that evening, facilitated by our campus counselor and a police officer. This one focused on how to prevent being a statistic and role-playing situations where someone else was drinking and might put themselves and others in danger. A couple volunteers from MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) were there to answer questions and give informational pamphlets. Information on Alateen, Alanon, and Alcoholics Anonymous was also available.
On the second day, the wall of memories was visible in the cafeteria and there were workshops at lunchtime about preventing alcohol-related accidents and deaths. The counselor, officers, and volunteers from MADD once again held round-table discussions for those who wanted to attend but weren't able to the night before. In the evening, there was a candle-lighting and memorial for those in our lives who had died due to alcohol.
I know I will never forget the impact of those two days, and I'm sure most of those who participated will never forget it either.
This event and others like it around the country were and are being sponsored by "Every 15 Minutes", a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of alcohol-related injuries and deaths. If you would like more information about this program, including training on how to organize an event, click here to visit their website.