Deserved Punishment or Criminal Behavior?

In the short story Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders, Jeff, a convicted criminal, is forced to take drugs and engage in sexual activity as a test subject in a research facility. He must do these things as punishment for his criminal background, however as the story progresses it becomes more and more clear that the people in charge of running the facility are acting in similar ways as the “bad guys”.

In the story, the people in charge gave a test subject Darkenfloxx, a drug which makes you want to kill yourself. She had killed people in her past which had wound her up in the facility, however it begs the question of why they would risk her life just because of her past. Yes she had killed people, however testing this drug on her when it was unnecessary (and against her will) and killing her only makes the administrators murderer too. Punishment should be put in place for violent crime however the severity of the punishment dehumanizes the criminal. Jeff was dehumanized to a point where only in death did he finally experience true human emotion, stating: “no. This is all me now” (80). In the real world, the criminal justice system is very much like this. Of course in different cases different forms of punishment must be put in place, but by dehumanizing these people it is making them believe that they can be nothing more than what they were in their past.