Author : Colin O’Boyle

Edgar Miller was a convict. Currently, he was an escaped convict, and that was the way he intended to stay. He’d broken out of prison through a series of well-laid plans, noticed opportunities and a bit of luck, not to mention violence.

“I said, ‘Give me the money!’” Edgar waved the gun in the storeowner’s face. The man, a balding African-American gentleman, was quaking in his boots, and from the smell, had peed his pants. That, plus the smell of the sweat on the man’s shiny palate were starting to irritate Edgar, so he decided to give off a warning shot to convince him that he was serious. He did so, the shot thunderously loud in the enclosed space, and the storeowner gave up hope that someone was going to stop this madman.

With pudgy fingers, he emptied the drawer of the cash register into Edgar’s canvas bag. Edgar, not wearing a mask of any sort, considered killing the man, but the lack of security camera gave him pause. As he ran out of the store and took off down the highway, he told himself it was because people in stressful situations don’t make good eye-witnesses.

The actual reason, however, was somewhat different.

“Ladies and gentleman,” said Dr. Johnson from his podium to the roomful of reporters, “I’d like to thank you for coming out to the cave today.” He gestured to what was behind him, a device that could only be called a pod. It was roughly the size of a couch, but was shaped like a transparent egg. Metal arms cradled it, and strands of colored wires emerged from its sides. Resting securely within this metal contraption, on a bed of gel and foam, lay Edgar Miller.

“We call it the cave after a famous thought experiment by the Greek philosopher, Plato. In this thought experiment, people were born and raised in a cave and forced to sit and face a single wall. On the wall, a light would be projected, and the people…essentially the wardens, would make shadows on the wall. Now—” Dr. Johnson pushed his glasses back up his nose, “—the people in this cave, since they had never been anywhere else, would see these shadows and, for them, that would be the world. We here at the Virtual Correctional Institution are a bit more technologically advanced.”

Dr. Johnson gestured toward the pod. “Mr. Miller is aware that he was placed in prison. He remembers everything in his life up until that moment. After that, however, things get a bit tricky. Mr. Miller was selected for our project as he was considered by the psychological staff that evaluated him as an incorrigible criminal, and that the best one could hope for was for him to be contained.” Dr. Johnson smiled. “We thought we could do a little bit better than that. In the cave, we control every aspect of our subject’s lives, far more so than any normal prison. Thus, when a subject makes a good choice, he can be rewarded and, eventually, be introduced back into society a rehabilitated man.” Dr. Johnson paused, allowing this to sink in a little, before saying, “Now we’ll adjourn to the atrium where I’ll take any questions you might have.”

As the room cleared, a journalist happened to look upwards as he walked out of the doors to the atrium. Above the doors to “Plato’s Cave,” was a quote by the Institute’s founder:

“The perfect prison is one in which the prisoner thinks he’s free.”


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