Hard Anxiety

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

The future of punishment.

Stevens, Grace

Professor Hull

Psychology 308

13 March 2119

Hard Anxiety: Prison Reform in the era of American Censorship

In the year 2039 the United States government had begun making appeals to remove the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause from the Constitution (Amidzia, 2059, p. 255). The original reason for its eventual removal in 2041 was that the clause prevented any form of what experts in the field would call “productive” interrogation techniques. Unable to retrieve, in most cases, “any kind of intelligence from the brazen terrorist organization members in captivity,” not only frustrated the government but sent many of the free countries into a frenzy of fear and paranoia (Fischer, 2099, p. 70). As pressure for a solution became undeniably fierce from citizens of these countries and with it a simultaneous demand to “end traditional torture of enemy cells,” a then new method called “Hard Anxiety” began to be more appealing. The media began to teem with the new political selling point that anxiety is a natural human emotion and that its use for intelligence gathering could be more powerful and humane than current solutions. By 2050, Hard Anxiety had become popular around the world due to results that were unlike that of any method previously used. Intelligence was gathered efficiently, and more and more liberal political groups began accepting it as humane and even ideal. Soon after, a Psychiatrist by the name of Henry Grant received Federal funding to begin research on the potential rehabilitation abilities of “Hard Anxiety” on prison inmates. With the publishing of Dr. Grants book, Hard Anxiety: Nature’s Remedy for the Absent Conscience in 2055, came “…radical prison reforms and a new culture of incarceration that even today is viewed as a scientific revolution” (Amidzia, 2059, p. 253). The reading that follows is an excerpt from an untitled novella by an unknown author who submitted the work to the publishing company Standart House in Burbank California who released it within that same year. A significant portion of the novel is comprised of vignettes that “…act as parables for a new age of civil unrest and mistrust in government operations” (Ford, 2070) heavily critical of the Works of Dr. Grant and are claimed by some to be intentionally distorted to protect the identity of the author and the ones involved with them. Because of the contents of the book it is believed by many analysts that the author “[had indeed been] incarcerated in America anywhere between 2060-2083 and had had contact with, what was then, a new and experimental substance, Hard Anxiety” (Fischer, 2099, p. 63).



Hard Anxiety

It’s one thing to be taught and a whole other thing to learn. The constant flaying of my consciousness had drained me of nearly all of my energy and wits before I even had my first trip. I remember being taught about the trip in classes at university. I remember being taught in detail what would years later become my reality. The first thing they taught us was the fundamentals. They said that the drug known as “Hard Anxiety” did only two things; 1. Suppress pleasure sensors, and 2. Introduces anxiety inducing neurotransmitters. Back then they were just words, just a set of terms and famous doctors I was made to recall for a test. It wasn’t until I was standing there in the safety room, legs cold from my own piss and face tightened from dried tears that I understood what the trip really was. It changed things in me that even today are impossible for me to describe and I know it will take decades if not longer to develop terminology for what the post trip reality entails. Some details have been erased from the recesses of my memory, but I recall the first few days in the house somewhat clearly.

The prison was dilapidated to say the least. The shortened terms that had come with the introduction of the trip and its subsequent reforms put these facilities far to the back of the budgeting priority. The beds were just thin matts on the metal bunks which, at times down the road, made me long for the soft of the safety room. On this particular day I was sitting in the mess hall with some other inmates that were scattered around hardly two people to a table. Since no one stayed in the prisons for longer than a few months it was rare to get to know the other inmates very intimately and since recidivism was so rare, only few had knowledge of the ways of the new system; the ones that did weren’t able to hold conversations without strong emotional reactions that often ended with sobbing or screaming and mostly kept to themselves. I was sitting across from a man named Castille the day of my first trip. I had been sentenced to ten months hard anxiety and even today, I can recall most of our conversations with a regretful clarity.

Castille was a large Italian man with a mix of black and gray hair on the sides of his head and a shiny scalp. He had a tattoo of a serpent wrapped around his neck that started (or ended) with the snake head about to bite his ear. His knuckles were hairy but even with the hair you could see the tan lines from where stacks of rings once covered his fingers.

“First treatment’s not so bad,” he said looking down at his lunch tray, “A day is a day you know, you waste plenty of ‘em. Hell, I coulda probably held my breath for it, looking back.”

His voice was higher in pitch from what I assumed it would be and his accent was almost hidden in his strained and raspy tone; it sounded almost as if he had been shouting at a football game all day.

“What was it like for you?” I asked.

“Not as bad as the last ones…not as bad as the week will be,” he said.

“I just want to know what it’s going to feel like,” I said, “The wait is just…”

“Have you been in the safety room?” he asked.

“Only for a second on the first day.” I said, putting my hand on the back of my neck, “It almost looked comfortable. But what about it?”

Castille snorted, “You won’t think that soon enough. Sometimes I think I’d be less afraid of a furnace.”

A wave of fear came over me and I didn’t know what to say so I only nodded timidly and looked down at my full lunch tray.

“What are you in for anyhow?” he asked.

I felt my blood slow down. I hadn’t talked about the crash or my wife since the trial.

“I don’t know, man” I said in a shaky voice, “I heard you’re not supposed to tell people those things in here.” I hadn’t heard that, but I was intimidated into trying to sound more intimidating than I was.

Castille squinted, “What, you chomo?” “Cause if you are, definitely don’t tell anyone.”

I shook my head as tears formed in my eyes, “No, God no. Nothing like that.”

“Murder in the first.” Castille said suddenly.

“What?” I was confused.

Castille nodded and looked at his empty tray. His eyes grew wide as if he were on the verge of a screaming fit so I “So my daughter is crying in her room and I uh, have good intuition, you know, she’s my daughter; I know when it’s serious. She’s fifteen about to be- uh, sixteen… soon, now that I can think about her right. But long story short she said a boyfriend, older guy of course, got her drunk a few nights before and uh, things happened.” I could see his eyes were welling up and he sniffled harshly.

“I know these things are rarely treated the way they’re supposed to be in this fucked up justice system. My daughter is darker like me, I knew nothing would happen to some white kid who, uh…so I took care of it, you know? Waited outside ‘till he left the house followed him to a parking lot downtown and… he never left his car.”

The room was so silent you could hear the refrigerators running in the background.

Castille let a tear fall from his eye, “I tell ya If I knew what that fuck would have gone through in here…I’d probably have just turned him in.” Castille laughed, “I wasn’t willing to risk it I guess.”

“I’m…truly sorry about your daughter, um…I’m James.”

“Name’s Castille…and don’t worry ‘bout it.”

“Castille…okay…I, uh…I got into an accident. It was bad… and my wife was with me. She, uh…she was pregnant, about five months along, I…it was the oncoming car that ran the light…but I had been drinking, so.”

All I could see adjacent from me was a big orange blob that was once Castille. My hand rubbed my thigh as I slumped down on the bench and I involuntarily said, “My baby,” to myself.

Castille had stood up and walked around the table, “We’re all human, James. You might never forgive yourself… but you gotta know this story goes on…so will you, even after everything that has and will happen. You go on.”

The warmth of Castille’s hand on my shoulder broke me down further into my self-pity. Soon he pulled me up and wrapped his giant arms around me.

“Manslaughter won’t get you the week. You count yourself lucky, James.”

With that, he let go and looked at the clock above the kitchen, “Get to the hut. If you’re late to a treatment they add a day.”

As I walked to the hut, I enjoyed the pleasurable catharsis of blurry vision guiding me through the darkened halls of the prison.

“The day is 10 March 2071, inmate G361 will be receiving initial dose of 50?g of a 300?g sentence of “Hard Anxiety” administered via external absorption. G361, do you on this day consent to and authorize the State of California to carry out phase 1 of your sentence?” The guard spoke in a robotic tone loudly as if he were ordering grunts around.

“Go ahead.” I said.

“We need to hear you say, ‘I give consent and authorization,’ before we can move on”

“I give consent and authorization.”

“G361, do you give the State of California consent and authorization to protect you during your treatment with the following precautions, Arm restraining jacket, leg restraining pants, neck brace, mouth guard, feeding tube, catheter, excretion bag, and helmet?”

In truth I heard very little of what he was explaining and before I knew it, I was all strapped in with a brace around my neck and a slight discomfort in my urethra. I was walked into the safety room just next door and a drop of cold liquid was dropped onto my neck and rubbed in by a guard wearing gloves.

“It’s done,” I thought, “The wait is over.” But I was wrong.

Ten minutes went by and nothing; then a half hour. Around fourty-five minutes after they locked the door the walls turned into a liquid and danced around in perfect geometric ripples. It almost reminded me of my college days at first when I would drop LSD with my wife before we got married. The difference now was that I could not enjoy the alteration in my vision. The way the walls rippled gave me the sensation that reality itself was no longer tangible. It all became a façade failing to hide something we’re not meant to see. I rubbed myself against the walls in a desperate attempt to experience an ounce of pleasure, but none could be had. What it did accomplish was causing my catheter to slip out. Soon I lost all sense of time, and with it, my ability to understand any of my thoughts to any meaningful capacity. I tried my best to be still and concentrate on a sentence but as soon as I would get a few words deep I would forget how it began and how I remembered it ending. I remember realizing that I did not know my own name at about the same time the first wave of anxiety came. I don’t know if the realization had caused it or if it was merely a symptom, but it came as a monstrous avalanche of emotional and physical turmoil. In my stomach I felt as though I was free falling from the sky and I could feel the roots of my teeth stabbing into my gums. My heart rate increased, and I could hear blood careening through my veins. I screamed, “Help” “Something’s wrong” I repeated for who knows how long. At what I later learned was called “the peak” I forgot my life before and what I had done that had led to this sensation, being in this room, and whoever put all these contraptions on me. All I knew was the shortness of breath and immense pressure crushing me from the inside. The baseless guilt, shame, paranoia, anger, frustration, fear; every demon our native chemicals had to offer had covered themselves in gasoline and came to dance with each other in a wildfire. The veil was lifted, and the mother curse of the human condition swallowed me. Was it always like this? Was there a before? Was this feeling ever not there? Could there have been something? I remember these questions being in my head only is feelings instead of actual sentences. By the time “the peak” waned I was reduced to a terrified and wounded animal backed into a corner, devoid of language or any coherence beyond a need to keep breathing. I felt myself shitting liquid uncontrollably into the excretion bag when the guards unlocked the door.

“You thought I was gonna be honest and tell you what it’s like the first time, really?” Castille said.

I was angry, not at him, but at my situation. Even more than angry, I was scared. I had hardly slept, and I guessed the comedown was also part of the rehabilitation. My dreams were horrid in the few hours I did sleep. The recesses of my mind were desperately throwing water out of a lifeboat I feared might be sinking too quickly.

“I forgot who I was.” I said, “I couldn’t even remember my wife. I-I thought the treatment was supposed to make you grow a conscience. I don’t even know what that was.”

Castille looked around and then leaned into me, “I have a different theory, if you care to hear.”

My ears grew hot as I leaned in. I hadn’t seen Castille in over a week “Be honest with me,” I said in a shaky whisper, “What the fuck are they doing to us? Do you know?”

“You see my eyes right now?” Castille asked.

They were bloodshot and tears were welling up, “You’re crying, I see that.”

“I ain’t cried but two times in my life before I came here, “When my wife died and when my daughter was born, my Bella” he said, and leaned in closer, “They’re turning us into women.”

I don’t know if it was the trauma or the lack of sleep but in that moment, I believed him whole-heartedly.

“My dick doesn’t work still. You think that could be true?” I asked.

“Not with estrogen or any shit like that,” Castille said shaking his head, “They are making us feel what they feel.”

It all made sense, if they made it easier or tricked the brain into more complex emotional responses, we would be less inclined to be one track minded when thinking or murdering or raping someone, things that women did much less often than men. I wanted to try to acknowledge his argument and say what I was thinking but it was still too complex a thought for my mouth to form sentences for. This entirely fucked up idea stayed little more than a suspicion like walking through the dark thinking you may be next to a cliff. Still, it gave me hope that there was a point to our suffering and that we were not at the mercy of man men bent on driving us into insanity or suicide.

Just then a man yelled something I couldn’t quite understand from the television area. He waved his arms and a group of inmates clamored and huddled around the television perched in the corner. Castille followed, so I did too.

“What’s going on?” he said to an inmate in the back of the crowd.

“Shut the fuck up.” The inmate hissed back.

“Good evening folks and thanks for tuning in, if you missed the first portion of our program our story tonight is hard anxiety: effective wartime interrogation method turned agent of mass incarceration reform. Joining us now, an ex-patient of hard anxiety Nemo Callahan and former warden of Michigan correctional facility, Bret Barnes, in a segment we like to call “The Horse’s Mouth”

The host of the show stood up and ran cheerfully to another part of the set where the two guests sat side by side as loud pop music played in the background. The studio audience was beginning to simmer down when a phone vibrated in an inmate’s hand standing next to Castille and I.

“Oh fuck,” he said looking down at his phone, “They shot him.” He said in in a near whisper as if the knowledge took breath from him.

“Mr. Barnes, Mr. Callahan, thank you for coming today to make television history by introducing the nation and perhaps the world to the first patient of hard anxiety to brave what industry professionals refer to as “the week” which is seven straight days of exposure to this revolutionary treatment designed and named by Dr. Henry G-“

The television cut to a commercial for male enhancement pills and I was ready for the inmates to go ape-shit; but nothing happened. The corner of the mess hall was quiet, and inmates began holding hands and pressing into each other’s foreheads. Sharp inhales and exhales reigned over any discernable words as the men dressed in their orange jumpsuits clasped onto each other like frightened children.

I listened for prayers, cries, words, but heard only breathing. It was as if Babylon had been resurrected and instead of people clamoring for understanding they all accepted their obscurity from their fellow man. I thought about what I could say, I thought about how I could fix this apocalyptic prayer huddle with my voice and my words. Think, please just think and that wit and humor will suppress these hopeless…thoughts. It was just like me to try to fix things with words. It is what, I often assumed, won over my non-existent wife and made her love me enough to let me fuck a non-existent child into her somehow even less-existent womb. I felt the trip coming back to me as I looked over to Castille, who was walking towards the television with his hands raised. In my head I heard his pleas: “Please, oh great Dynex television set show us your secrets, guide us through this valley of despair and rid us of these dark suspicions . Validate our suffering and give us the strength and wisdom to-



He sat on the edge of his lounge chair talking to his brother, “Why does that happen?”

The brother shakes his head, “Fuckin’ government’s hiding their asses, I swear these dudes blow their heads off on live T.V. or they can’t talk of some shit.”

The man sits back in his chair, “That’s what they get…fuckin’ scum of the earth, all of ‘em.”

“Come on, you know they do some fucked up shit to those guys. They probably got melted minds from those drugs, man.”

“Please, they’re murderers and chomos. I say do what you want with ‘em. What I don’t get is how no one is able to say anything about what happens when they change the channel like that…it’s fuckin’ live T.V.”

“Oh, you don’t know?”

“Oh, you do?”

“Yes. I fuckin’ do. They make everyone in the studio sign contracts. You know in case shit goes down.”

“It’s fucking live television, what about half the country that saw blow his own head off of spit out word vomit like a mongoloid.”

“I mean,” the brother laughs “who wants to fuck with the government when they can-“

“Hey, shut up for a second,” the man says. “She’s crying, I gotta handle this.”

“What? Come on. Don’t you gotta let ‘em cry it out…like…I don’t know, sleep training.”

The man touched his forehead, “When she was a baby. Christ, she’s six, fuckwit” the man said as he slapped his brother on the head as he walked past.

“Mio tesoro, daddy’s here.”

“Daddy!” the girl cried out, “Don’t let me die!”

“Hey, hey. What? Why are you saying that?”

“Mitch Connor said at school that everyone dies and so many presidents are dead and people from our books and even mamma, I-I”

“Shhhh, Bella shhhhh”

The man paused and put his face in his hand.

“Yes. Everyone dies eventually but-baby no no no no” the man put his hand on the girls head as she began to cry again and held her so she was looking at him

“That’s not gonna be for a very very long time. You have no reason to worry about that right now. Amore, you have a whole life ahead of you and guess what else? I’m gonna be here always to protect you.”

“You mean it?” she said

He laid her back down on her bed, “Me and mamma. We both love you, and even when we’re both gone, we’re still gonna look out for you. Just like you will for your kids, someday.”

“I don’t want kids, I know they hurt when they come out!” she said.

“Vita mia!, where did- nevermind…amore, all I’m saying is that you have nothing to be scared of. Dying is a part of life, and when it happens, which will be so long from now, it will be calm and easy like falling asleep.

“But what if I wake up and no one is around, and no one can hear me if I’m scared?” she began to breathe heavy.

The man pulled the girls covers up to her shoulders and sat up on the edge of her bed.

“Do you remember before you we’re born?”

The girl looked around the room, “I don’t think so.”

“Do you remember being alone and scared in a dark place before being with mamma and papa?”

“…No. No one can remember when they were babies, daddy.”

“Well, that’s what it will be like when we leave the earth. You won’t feel alone or scared or anything like that at all.”

“You promise?” she asked

“I’m not here to lie to you.” He said as he watched the movement in her chest slow rapidly. He then kissed her on the forehead as she closed her eyes.

“Don’t shut it please, papa. I like hearing you and zio talk.”

“Okay, we’ll be quiet so you can sleep, amore.”

“I can sleep, daddy.”

The man looked back at the girl as she turned on her side and hugged her ragged stuffed dog to her face, “Alright, Bella. Goodnight.”











Works Cited

Amidzia, A. (2060). Understanding the Seduction of Crime: How the new age of medicine can mold consciousness in troubled populations. Journal of Psychology, 21(5), 253-259. doi:10.1034/0259-8812.29.5.897


Fischer, E. J. (2099). The Loop of Histories: Stages and factors that influence returns to historically ill-begotten values. International Journal of Human Societies, 56(3), 63-75.


Grant, B. (2055). Hard Anxiety: Nature’s Remedy for the Absent Conscience. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.










Submitted: September 01, 2019

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