The Treatment

In the future, convicted criminals receive a genetic modification to their brains, then these criminals are released back into society. In this story, a killer, Craig Kowalski, receives the genetic surgery in the year 2051, and he is granted his freedom.

Photograph of The Questioner of the Sphinx by Elihu Vedder (1836-1923), 1863, Oil on Canvas, Boston Museum of Fine Art

Craig Kowalski, the infamous serial killer, received genetic modifications to his brain and a subdural tracking chip was implanted in him. He was, accordingly, to be released from prison. Every week for the first four weeks, Craig would be required to see a brain specialist and a psychologist. Pending successful reviews of his behavior and scans of his brain, he would need only see his parole officer every two weeks. If the reviews of his brain and behavior did not yield satisfactory results, other resolutions—including hormone therapy, more intensive brain surgery, and additional prison time—would be sought.

Craig Kowalksi was known for the murders of no fewer than eleven young women, with some estimates as high as thirty-five. The murders are alleged to have taken place over a twelve year period. There was, therefore, no enormous and completely ecstatic crowd to greet him upon his departure from the W. Becker Neurosurgery Clinic. But Craig Kowalski’s one year term in prison represented a drastic departure from the punishment for serial killers to which the public was accustomed. There was, therefore, an enormous crowd to greet him upon his departure.

In the past, of course, serial killers typically received either death penalties—which proved morally, judicially, and politically fraught—or life sentences, which proved costly for the state and ultimately irritating to nearly all involved. In the year 2051, however, after numerous scientific and medical advancements had taken place with respect to the brain, these punishments were reviewed. There had already been a deep undercurrent of dissatisfaction associated with life imprisonment and death sentences, but neither science nor the judiciary presumed to have struck upon a more just solution as to what actions to take with the most loathsome of society’s offenders.

The main reason was that serial killers—in part because of their upbringing, and in part because of their character—seemed to be an incalcitrant bunch. It was Henry Müller, the German criminal psychologist, who first suggested the course of action newly practiced today. Dr. Müller had studied at length some of the most infamous statements by serial killers, and he was left struck by the impression that the serial killers shared one trait in common. They felt compelled to kill. Dr. Müller examined the literature. In the 1890s, the notorious killer, H.H. Holmes stated, “I could not help being a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.” Upon reading this statement from Holmes, Dr. Müller said that he sat back in his chair, struck by a ring of truth in the speaker’s words. What was it, Dr. Müller wondered, that made a person want to be an engineer more than a poet? Or to be a painter more than a train conductor? The answer, must, in part, lie in the person’s environment. For there were certainly families who, for example, grew up and lived near railroads for their entire lives, but the children of those families did not all want to be train conductors. The children of those families would want different things, and, despite their growing up in similar environments, those children had vastly different desires. The explanation to those different desires, Dr. Müller felt, was due to genetics. It was probable, then, that a person like H.H. Holmes must feel a desire to kill which was impressed upon him by his genetic makeup, and to which a person like Holmes must inevitably bend.

In the years 2040-45, Dr. Müller researched criminal ontology and brain genetics in his free time. In the autumn of 2045, he presented his findings which demonstrated a link between the brains’ genetic programming and a criminal’s actions. He was, initially, met with great skepticism. But Dr. Müller persisted. And, in the year 2050, genetic research upon the brain caught up with his theories. Scientists stated that, through the modifications of certain genes in a human’s brain, they could more or less prescribe what a human would do. Scientists could, in a word, increase aggressiveness or decrease libido or inspire a person to paint. The media hit upon this, saying that such science was all common sense, of course. Media personalities appeared on various channels spouting armchair psychology and citing historical instances to support their claims. They referenced a person who was struck by lightning then suddenly became musically inclined. They dredged up the case of Phineas Gage who was working on the railroad when a pole was jammed through his skull. Gage survived, but he gained a remarkable interest in collecting souvenirs—a habit to which he had not previously been disposed.

Dr. Müller was once again respected and consulted. He was thrust into the limelight.

He proposed a drastic solution which was heard around the world.

Dr. Müller proposed that the prison system be nearly entirely eliminated. In its place, repeat offenders, and serious offenders—rapists, murderers, pedophiles, and the like—ought to have their brains genetically altered. Then, these offenders should be sent directly back into society. Dr. Müller stated that these offenders would no longer pose a risk. They couldn’t. Their brains weren’t urging them to the same morbid ends.

This proposal was, of course, met with resistance. There is always resistance to change. One of the most complicated pieces of dialogue to unpack was the piece surrounding justice. Victims’ families contended, with no small rationale, that a man who killed thirty people ought to be punished for it. Nevermind the fact that his brain was wrong to begin with—that wasn’t the victims’ families fault—it was important to respect the fact that changing the way that a serial killer or a rapist thought wasn’t going to restore a murder victim’s life or un-rape a victim.

Some of these victims’ families went so far as to argue that a person could do whatever they wished, then plead that their brains had malfunctioned. The offender could get their brain changed, and, in effect, get away with murder.

On the other side of this very contentious argument, there was a group of people arguing vehemently that the very purpose of prison was to reform, and, if a person were reformed, then there was no use in keeping them in prison and of depriving that person of their liberty, and society of a good, reformed citizen. Take advantage of science, these people said.

It was all very heated.

And it wasn’t until the case of Craig Kowalski that science finally got its chance to try its genetic modification solution out.

In a relatively short surgery, neurosurgeons altered permanently the way that Craig Kowalksi thought.

The effect was that Kowalski went into surgery as one type of man, and he came out another.

Craig received a GPS tracker beneath his skin in case he tried to cut and run. He professed no desire to. He was pleasant and polite. The surgery seemed to have worked. The neurosurgeons declared it a success.

He was ready for discharge from the W. Becker Neurosurgical Clinic on December 4th, 2051. He was briefed that the crowd outside—which was composed of media members, members of the victims’ families, human rights groups, protest groups, and rubber-neckers—was liable to be a little antsy. The police and military were on hand to restrain them. It was expected of Craig Kowalski that he walk out of the Becker Clinic, head directly to his brother’s car (who was waiting there for him), and that the two should drive away as quickly and as safely as reasonably possible.

Craig agreed.

Craig was asked again if he could remember what crimes he had committed.

Craig said that he could remember, and that he was horrified to have done the deeds.

Craig was asked if he was ready to go.

Craig responded in the affirmative.

Accompanied by four large military men as escorts, Craig walked to his car. The crowd shouted and jeered. There was a fight in the crowd which was quickly broken up. A single tomato was thrown, but it missed. Craig got into his brother’s car, and they very slowly drove away. Some protestors beat on the windows, but the crowd was mostly restrained by their own sense of good behavior and the police.

Craig Kowalski, the media said the next day, killed at least twelve people, and he spent a year in jail for it. But was the Craig Kowalski who was released really the same Craig Kowalski that killed all those people?

A philsopher brought up the planks of Plutarch. Plutarch, the philosopher said, was an ancient Greek who talked about building and re-building ships. Plutarch’s general idea was that a person could replace a broken plank in a ship, and it’d still be the same ship. But Plutarch wondered what would happen if a person replaced more than just a plank. What if they replaced a mast? What if they replaced more than a mast? At what point, Plutarch wondered, did a person replace so much of a ship that it wasn’t really the same ship anymore, but a different one?

Some people seized upon this old argument as a fulcrum in the debate about Craig Kowalski. Craig had had a part of his brain modified, was he really the same Craig Kowalski? Or was he someone different?

To Craig Kowalksi, his problems were much more practical. Some people at his new job treated him with leery disdain and deep distrust. Others were super-welcoming, embracing him as if they were hugging the living embodiment of progress. It was hard for Craig to find friends. It was even harder to find a date, and he found himself wanting to get married and have children, but that wasn’t something he felt brave enough to talk about—because he remembered his past and felt guilty about it.

All these complicated and very human things were going on while, of course, poor people starved, and regular folk were encouraged not to forget about them, and while there were crises of migrancy and women’s rights and environmental destruction. Craig Kowalksi was, in effect, one small part of the ongoing human maelstrom. But Craig still felt that his problems were more real to him than to other people, and he wasn’t allowed to change his name or move states. He had to deal with his problems. And he sometimes wondered if it was fair and just that he had to deal with such problems—after all, it wasn’t his fault that he’d been born with a broken brain.

Fifteen years later, there were special clinics popping up which would allow for physical changes to a human’s body to change the way that the person felt. The doctors in these clinics used the tools in their disposal—primarily genetic and hormonal modification—to decrease symptoms associated with depression and bipolar personality disorders. Many people, however, also used the clinics for sex reassignment and sexual reorientation. The advances in medicine continued as a part of the cultural discussion as people around the world grappled with the discussion of what rights they had to access these services—was it a basic human right or just an option? Such questions impacted economics. The number of men and women in jails had decreased considerably over this time as more and more people received the treatment that was pioneered on Craig Kowalski. There had been a few cases of relapses, where the surgeries had not been properly done, but, overall, the process had advanced enough that the jails were slowly being emptied, and the number of offenses around the world was mainly limited to third world countries which did not have the medical facilities to systematically apply genetic modification.

Craig Kowalski’s case had changed the world.


By David Murphy

David Murphy is an author. 
Contact him at: DavidMurphy13 at Gmail dot com.

4 replies on “The Treatment”

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