Help Me End This Story!

Robert Peate
13 min readAug 1, 2022

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Separation II

“What’s that building over there?” I asked when I was first brought to the Institute for the Treatment of Criminal Violence. It seemed separate from the rest of the complex somehow, smaller, sadder.

“Oh, that,” the driver of the prison vehicle said. “You’ll never go there.”

His not answering my question did not satisfy me, but I did not press him further. They led me out of the vehicle and into a modern building. I was already in prison garb from the local jail, so they just double-checked me by patting me down before bring me in to meet Doctor Scott.

“Doctor Scott,” the red-haired woman behind the desk said, gesturing for me to sit opposite her. A policeman was going to stay until she motioned for him to leave. “Thank you, Officer.”

She sat down. “Now, I see here that you killed one of your neighbors, is that right?”

“Yes,” I said, head down.

“What provoked you?”

“Noise. At all hours. All kinds of noise: music, parties, sex, talking — yelling, rather. He even had his car mufflers removed, and then on top of that, he would blast music from his car. I couldn’t take it.”

“I assume you complained to the building managers?”

“You assume correctly.”

“And . . . ?”

“He would say he was sorry and do it again when they weren’t looking. Of course other people just accepted it, so because they just accepted it and didn’t complain, I looked like the unreasonable one. They stopped believing me.”

“Did you consider moving?”

“Moving? Why should I have to move because someone else is a piece of shit?”

“Unfortunately, it does happen. So what happened in the end?”

“He had another all-nighter on a Friday night: dozens of guests, music, laughter, idiocy, vandalism. People in the parking lot being drunk and stupid. Someone smashed my car’s side window, and I grabbed an aluminum bat I kept in the place for protection. The next thing I knew, people were screaming and the police were taking me away. I don’t actually remember attacking him, but I saw the photographs. They were awful.”

“Yes, they are,” Doctor Scott said, looking at the murder photographs.

“Now, let us talk about your treatment,” Doctor Scott continued. “You are separated from Society, but you are not here to suffer. You are here to be helped. We will do everything in our power to help you to overcome your violent impulses and tendencies.”

“We’ve all heard about this,” I said. “So I get to do whatever I please in a vacation resort as long as I promise never to hurt anyone?”

“That is a popular misconception, but no. You get to undergo assessments and therapies. You get to do hard work on yourself, which could be considered the hardest work there is. When you are not doing these things, you are still a citizen with rights who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, and the state has done all it can to provide you with a comfortable environment to, first of all, help you to build a positive feeling toward Society again. There is a purpose to everything we do here, Mister. ____.”

I nodded. “It sounds good. But what’s going on in that one building over there? It seems hush-hush.”

Doctor Scott seemed surprised I had noticed it. “As you must know, some persons cannot be cured. We do not harm anyone, so the incurables stay with us. That is where they live.”

“Oh,” I mumbled.

“It is very sad,” she added. “Fortunately for you, I am sure you will be able to return to Society.”

“But it sounds like a sweet deal,” I said. “You never have to work again. You just get to stay here, waited on hand and foot by nice people like you.”

“A gilded cage is still a cage, Mister ___, and we find that despite physical comforts, what people miss and desire most is their freedom. Yes, those people in that area of our facility have some limited freedom of movement, but they do not enjoy many of the privileges that you will. More than anything, I am sure they wish they were free.”

“But aren’t you punishing them, and I killed someone. What could be worse than that?”

“No, we are not punishing them for past behavior. We are preventing future harm based on how dangerous we assess them still to be. Anyone may reform, Mister ___, but we have found these persons still pose significant risks to our society. As for what could be worse than killing your neighbor, I am sure you can think of things that are worse.”

She was right. I could.

I nodded, digesting what she had said. “Well, I’ll try never to go there then.”

“A sensible policy. You see, you already enjoy more freedom of movement than they do. Going there would be . . . well, I personally find it depressing. It is definitely sad to see those of whom we hold no hope of improvement.”

I thanked her, and they showed me to my room in a dormitory named Schweitzer. They fed me good food, and they took me to group and private therapy sessions, but I could not stop thinking about the losers in the most secure area.

One day they actually hit me with a lot of noise, just to see how I responded. I laughed. It was obvious what they were doing, plus I didn’t have to live with them. If they had done it to me every night where I slept, that might have been another story.

One night I lay in bed thinking about how I could go to the more-secure area. I decided to ask. The worst they could say was no.

I asked. “Is there any rule against it, for educational purposes?”

Doctor Scott said, “No, there is not, but you may find it . . . depressing, as I do.”

“I am willing to take that risk.”

“You will not be allowed to interact with the residents.”

“That seems reasonable.”

“These are persons who are extremely dangerous — and incorrigible. We know; we have tried for many years to help them, without success.” Doctor Scott stared off, sadly.

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” I said. “I can see this affects you personally.”

“We do not wish them to remain here. We wish everyone to be free. We do everything we can to make that happen. But it is not possible.”

“I think everyone knows that, Doc.”

“Still, it is a shame.”

“Yes, it is a shame. The World should be perfect.”

Doctor Scott chuckled. “You’re right, Mister ___, the World is not perfect. Perhaps someday we will get there, eh?”

“I honestly don’t think so, but I admire you for trying to make it happen.”

“Well, that is very kind. We will go for a short time tomorrow.”

That night in my small bed in Schweitzer I thought of famous criminal cases in the recent past, trying to guess who might be in the small building. I remembered horrible crimes. I wondered if some types of criminals were easier to rehabilitate than others.

I thought, as I had never really thought before, about the history of crime, punishment, and rehabilitation. In the past, criminals had been punished. Of course, eventually society came to realize that making people suffer did not teach them to change their ways. Suffering teaches suffering and how to cope with suffering. It also creates a host of antisocial side effects, such as pain and resentment. If anything, it makes criminals more mad at society, and who can blame them for that? If we wish to change behavior, we have to provide more than a desire to escape suffering; pain avoidance is not even really morality. If I yank my hand away from a hot stove, that is not me behaving morally beyond self-preservation. The reason someone uses hot gloves when cooking at home is also self-preservation. Self-preservation is the most primitive form of motivation, and many persons cannot even behave in self-preserving or adaptive ways that do not harm others. Human beings do not take good care of themselves. So what do they care about? Some care about nothing. Some care about a few persons, or their possessions. But if they have someone or something to protect, that can give Society an inroad to persuading them and them a motive to improve.

I thought about how when the modern therapeutic approach began, it was opposed by those who lived in the cycle of violence and punishment, those who favored continuing it despite its age-old failure to improve anything. “More guns, more jails, more punishments!” they would cry, knowing in their hearts that more guns, more jails, and more punishments would never lead to more peace, more love, or more security.

The solution was clearly to treat all offenders, violent and nonviolent, and put faith in their own abilities to see the societal advantages for them in being good citizens. Freedom was certainly priceless and the desire of all incarcerated persons, I soon learned.

In the morning, my usual orderly brought me to Doctor Scott’s office, where two large security officers waited with her.

“You don’t usually see security guards around here,” I said.

“That is because most of the residents here are peaceful most of the time. Where we are going, we just wish to take additional precautions. All right.”

My orderly went back to his duties, and the four of us walked across the campus toward the small old building surrounded by a few trees and a low fence.

“How are you this morning?” Doctor Scott asked.

“Okay,” I answered. “Why do I suddenly feel nervous about going here?”

“Perhaps because you know these residents are dangerous, and perhaps because you are a human being.” Doctor Scott smiled. “I would be concerned if you did not.”

We reached the entrance and went through security screening. Doctor Scott explained she was taking me for a brief tour. Afterward, we stood in the lobby.

“Let’s start you off with someone relatively mild,” she said and started walking down the hall. The guards and I followed.

At a door, Doctor Scott said, “This person belonged to a cult. He killed people. We have been unable to deprogram him.” She led the way inside another room, which contained a two-way mirror allowing observation in inside yet another room. In the room beyond, the resident sat in a chair by himself. I felt disappointed.

“Could we talk with him?” I asked.

“I can. You are not allowed. If you say anything, we are going right back, do you understand?”

“Yes.”

Doctor Scott activated a microphone. “Good morning, David. How are you today?”

The man in the chair reacted to the voice by looking up toward the two-way mirror and answered, “The same as every other day.”

“Are you comfortable? Do you need any new reading material or video entertainment?”

“What I need is for you to let me out of here.”

“I am sorry, David. I can do almost anything, except that. You know that.”

“Why do you persecute your political enemies? You could be on the side of good.”

“We have been through that before too, David. You and I have different perceptions of the good.”

So he’s in a cult, I thought. There’s no reasoning with that.

Doctor Scott ended the interaction, and we left the room for the corridor.

“As you can see, this is the best place for him,” she said. “As you can also probably see, this will always be the best place for him, unless he comes to see reason on his own, which we cannot predict. So until he does, he is here.”

I nodded grimly.

“Now, the next room is . . . different. This man is technically a mass-murderer, but he did not kill anyone personally. He ordered his followers to kill his opponents, but legally he is guilty of their murders as well. I must warn you this man is extremely dangerous and will never change, in my (and not just my) professional opinion. He will not see you through the two-way mirror. You must not speak.”

“I will not speak.”

We went into the next observation room, which looked onto a very comfortable study, with desk, chairs, shelves, books, various mementos. “As you can see, it is not our task to cause suffering — the tortured soul causes itself enough of that.”

Doctor Scott waited until everyone was seated and quiet before pressing a small button next to an intercom speaker. After she released it, she said, “This lets him know I am here. He might take some time — we do not know if he is dressed.”

But mere moments later a man came into the room, a man I recognized immediately despite his increased age and weariness. I was shocked beyond words. I could not believe the sight before my eyes, except that I was seeing it with my eyes. I recognized a man the whole World knew from photographs and video clips but whom I would never have expected to see in the flesh.

“Doctor Scott,” the man said. “How good of you to pay me a visit.”

“How have you been?”

“I am always well, except of course for the cage in which you keep me.”

“Yes, I am sure that is true. I am sorry for that.”

“You say that every time, and yet you are never sorry enough to release me.”

I was struck by this man’s charisma, which I had seen years before in news clips but forgot over time. It was clear to me that even now he could incite a global movement of hatred and violence — as he had done before.

“Do you have any requests? Books, music, videos?”

“No, I am quite content for now. I have been writing.”

“Oh?”

“Just a brief outline of my political program. My followers would love to read it, but I am Sur eyou would not permit that.”

“I would have to read it first, to know the answer to that question. We cannot permit the incitement of violence.”

“Contrary to the views of the authorities, I have never incited violence. I have said how I thought the state should be run. What others have done in my name, I am not responsible for. They misunderstood my complaints and took the law into their own hands. I am a peaceful man.”

“And yet the courts found you responsible. I am not here to relitigate your trials.”

“Very well, Doctor. Any word on a dog?”

“I have decided it could be therapeutic for you, yes.”

“Excellent.”

“Any particular breed you prefer?”

“I prefer dogs at least the size of Labrador Retrievers, but I do not know what you will permit.”

“I will think about that. In the mean time, I have a visitor here with me.”

“Oh?”

I immediately felt fear.

“Yes, a resident from the other side of the campus was curious to see how your cohort and you are living.”

“Ah. Welcome, fellow resident. As you see, we have all the comforts of home that our chaperones allow.”

I very much wished to ask him a question. I whispered to Doctor Scott to ask her if I might. She nodded.

“Thank you, sir. I am wondering how you feel — what it is like to be in a place you have been told you will likely never leave.”

“Of course this is disagreeable. I cannot believe you need to be told that.”

“I suppose not. I suppose what I am wondering is . . . do you think they are right? Do you think you will never change? Do you think you can earn release?”

“Why should I change? Because I hold political views condemned by the state? Even if I wished to overthrow the government — which I do not — , I have never taken up arms against the government. My followers, some of them, have done so, but not with my foreknowledge or agreement. They put me in here because I was the figurehead of a movement and they needed a scapegoat, also to demoralize my followers into fragmenting. No; I am a political prisoner, pure and simple, and why should any citizen — ask yourself this: why should any citizen — you or anyone else — have to change her or his political views to live in a so-called ‘free’ society? Yes, I criticized the government. Is that a crime? Should it be? Are we truly free to speak our minds or not? It is a disgrace.”

“Thank you,” Doctor Scott said. “Until next time.” She pushed buttons that muted the resident and prevented me from answering him. Then she stood. “Time to go.”

“Go? Because you didn’t like what he said? Doesn’t that validate what he was saying?”

“Come on. Now.” She indicated the door. I sighed and left the room.

Once we were back in the corridor, I asked, “Why did you take us out of there?”

“You don’t see it, do you?”

“See what?”

“He was working on you. That is why he is dangerous. He sounds reasonable but is not. He knew he was inciting violence. He pretends he did not, but he is too smart for that. He knew exactly what he was doing. He got people to love him so much they would do anything for him — and he was trying that on you too.”

I could not deny parts of what she was saying. He did seem perfectly reasonable. So it was dangerous to be reasonable? He said his speech was being censored by the state. I did not know what to think.

“So now you know,” Doctor Scott said. “Men like him are extremely dangerous, and of course they appear reasonable, especially when they are trying to manipulate fellow residents into helping them escape.”

“Escape?”

“That is all he thinks about.”

“How do you know that?”

“I can just tell. He does not fool me.”

“Well, I can assure you I have no intention of helping him or anyone else here escape.”

“You would fail if you did. And then your time here would be extended.”

“Would you mind if I read more about his case?”

“The Internet library has been and remains at your disposal. Just don’t let him deceive you.”

“I won’t.”

By this time we had reached the door to my dormitory, and Doctor Scott bade me farewell.

“I will see you in our session tomorrow,” she said. “I hope your curiosity was satisfied.”

“Yes, Doctor, thank you. I am confused as to why he should be held here, but I am sure the state had good reasons.”

“It did.”

We parted, and the guards escorted me to my room, where I looked up the man with whom I had been speaking mere minutes earlier. I read about his case. Many of his supporters had attempted to overthrow the government, and he was subsequently placed in the facility. He had spoken of the injustices committed by the government, and though he had never explicitly called for violence, the things he had said of the leadership were so derogatory that he was held responsible for the actions of his followers. He urged them to “take action”, though at his trial he insisted he had meant peaceful, legal action at the ballot box. The prosecution said he was being disingenuous and had every reason to know his supporters would become violent.

The jury found him guilty, and the judge referred him to the facility for assessment and therapy.

YOU DECIDE THE ENDING!

Should the main character . . .

  1. behave himself and earn a speedy release, or
  2. attempt to liberate the charismatic prisoner, with possibly disastrous consequences
  3. do something else

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Robert Peate

Thought needs the most provoking.