The prisoner awoke in the cell with a jolt. He scrabbled, both mentally and physically, as he sought an answer. Any answer. He realised that none were forthcoming. Several moments of careful self-reflection informed him that he had no knowledge of his identity. He had no recent memories at all. There were some ragged, distant childhood memories, but nothing of substance. He rose from the stiff, starched bed, and inspected his surroundings. There was little to see. His confinement was featureless.
Apart from the bed stood a desk and chair. On it, a large number of books were stacked. He staggered to the surface and started to take in their titles. Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche. The Republic by Plato, Ethics for the New Millennium by the Dalai Lama. He glanced across the books in confusion. He saw copies of the Bible and the Quran, as well as other religious texts.
He walked away and sat on the bed in confusion. He was still reeling from the void in his mind, and the books just raised further questions. He stared in silence. An hour later, a meal tray slid into the room from a previously hidden slot a floor level. It was basic and functional food, bland but filling. He reflected on the position of not knowing the last time he had eaten.
He sat, masticating and cogitating, staring at the towers of knowledge.
It was an hour before he opened the first book.
The director watched the events of the cell play out with interest. This was the start of physical trials, and he hoped that it would bear fruit. The director was no-one special, just another government official who had be tasked with addressing the numbers of the reoffenders entering back into prison populations. He had looked at the conundrum for months before the revelation struck him. The problem wasn’t with the punishment. It lay in the perpetrators. They didn’t understand the ramifications and repercussions. The prisoner was currently being repeatedly drugged with a chemical that prevented the recall of any short-term memory. It meant he had no recollection of holding up a liquor store and beating a female worker into submission. The intent was to restructure his code of ethics and morals until he could appreciate how truly wrong his actions were. This is where the books came in, tomes collected from throughout history to allow the subject to redevelop their sense of right and wrong to higher level. Once they had a better understanding, then the drugs could be withdrawn and they would be allowed to experience their guilt and remorse properly. It would take some time, but he knew it would be an education for both of them.
The prisoner was feeling anxious. The feeling had been growing for a couple of days, ever since he noticed a change in the taste of the food. The books had been a welcome distraction, and he had hungrily devoured the contents. The information had often been conflicting with no clear message, and he was forced to draw his own conclusions. In time he started to realise that was the point.
Now he felt something new. Up until recently his memories had been a vacuum, but now he was starting to distinguish their shape. Elements danced infuriatingly in his mind. He tried to bury himself in another volume, but his mind would not allow him to focus. Tears started to stream down his face, and for the life of him he could not understand why.
The director watched the prisoner with mixed emotion. The man was guilty of his crimes, there was no question of that, but the changes he had rendered into the man’s personality had produced a new individual. It was upsetting to watch him slowly hit by the revelation of his actions. The man had been sobbing for two hours. He had previously been so confident, now he found his motivations questionable. He had actually talked to the tech guys about making the memory removal permanent, but they insisted it would require constant upkeep to maintain. He had realised that he needed to allow the man to face his demons, whatever the scars they inflict.
The administrator studied the monitors overseeing the experiment. The director had not realised in volunteering his project he would become a part of it, and he was being scrutinised as much as the prisoner. It was a good idea. Teach the prison populace to feel remorse. But why stop there? Given enough time and resources you could do this to anybody, hell everybody. It would be easier to keep a society in order. He watched the administrator start to cry. His involvement was important. What kind of individual could be tasked with the restructuring of someone’s morals? These questions were important, and heralded further research. This would pave the way to a crime-free society. He felt righteous.