Higher Education

Higher Education

Posted on October 7, 2021 at 10:17 pm by Jeffrey James Roberts

A video crackles to life, wavy lines zigzag across until it finally clears somewhat into a grainy resolution best described as pre-high-definition. The room on-screen has a single chair set in the middle, with small decorative plastic plants on each side, pointless and covered with dust, but there nonetheless. The only sound is the ticking of a clock on the stark white wall behind the chair, an old clock with ornamental hands pointing at numbers. The time is 11:51 pm, and on the chair, staring at the camera is Jeffrey James Roberts.

Roberts begins with his arms relaxed on the arms of the chair, resting to the back of the plush La-Z-Boy. His deep blue eyes flash something darker and more sinister, juxtaposed against the smile on his face.

“Hello, Brian.

I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance. This is different from the way I’ve previously been forced to do this. It seems that when I’m a good boy, I get rewarded. Doozer left the ring physically intact, and I have no trophy to show for it other than a win, and because of that, instead of the cold, dark cell that has been my home for the last ten years, I am instead in a cold, bright cell that will be my home for at least two more days.

I know it doesn’t look like a cell to you.

It looks like a room – a boring room and nothing more. But unlike most boring rooms, this one has a door at least a foot thick if I were to wager a guess. Trust me, I tested it. There aren’t any windows in here, as expected. I suspect the blankness of it all is meant to be a psychological message from my benefactor. I respect that. I’m now still a rat in a cage to be experimented on. You know, despite all my rage. I know it’s happening and I’m going along with it because the alternative is life in a hole staring at newspaper clippings and listening to old music.

I like old music, but I like freedom more. I’ll never have it, no matter what happens to you this week, so instead of allowing myself false hope, I’ll play my part, as intended. I’m being tested as we speak, you know.

Two times I was placed in a wrestling ring, after a decade of solitude and a whole lot of violent tendencies stored up inside me. Once was your friend, former friend?, Darin Zion. I understand the poor boy is in for some plastic surgery. But that’s alright, isn’t it? He’s alive. And Eli Dresden, the poor girl, has a hole in her shoulder as a reminder of our time together. I suppose she’ll be seeing the plastic surgeon soon as well. I’m the best referral business the good ole doc has had in years, I think. Perhaps I should ask for a cut of his fees, not that I would have anything to do with the money.

See for me, Brian, money is pointless. I can do pretty much all I’ve ever wanted to do without resources, after all. I wasn’t born into money, I’ve never had it, I’ve lived more in trailer parks than homes, and I’ve lived in a prison cell for a third of my life. I have been poor my entire existence. So you could say, I am your antithesis. You are Greed. I am not.

Why you represent Greed is not something I care about. Most people in this country are greedy. It’s our defining characteristic as a capitalistic society. So I’m not sure why you stand out. Is it because you’ve been World Champion several times? Because you’re the Television Champion now? Is it because you gobble up undeserved opportunities like a fat kid leaned over a chocolate river? Is it because you want and want and want, but haven’t done and done and done anything of note in years? You were relevant at a time when I was but halfway through my time under lock and key. Before my incarceration you were nothing, and now, at what could possibly be the end of it, you’re nothing again. Nothing but an emotion. Nothing but Greed.

I’m afraid that your eyes are bigger than your stomach, and that you have more curiosity than understanding. You grasp at everything, but catch nothing except wind.

The world says: ‘You have needs — satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.’ This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide and for the poor, envy and murder.

Tell me, is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed, anyway? Of course, none of us are really greedy, are we, Brian? It’s only the other man who’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty I lived through, the only cases in recorded history are where they have had ways and means to take control of their own fates. There is no other way to be anything but a cog in a machine that never stops turning, stomping, and crushing everything in its path.

I remember fighting my way through adolescence. I don’t have memories of laughter or of celebration and accomplishment. I was a tortured boy looking for anything to make him feel alive. Nothing worked, but I attempted the charade anyway. I went to school for a while. I went to football games, to dances. I took a girl to prom.

That same night, for the first time, I wrote my thoughts down onto paper in the form of a short story. It took me thirty minutes. It was a dark little tale about a man who found a magic cup and learned that if he wept into it, his tears turned into pearls. But even though he had always been poor, he was a happy man and rarely shed a tear. So he found ways to make himself sad so that his tears could make him rich. As the pearls piled up, so did his greed grow. The story ended with the man sitting on a mountain of pearls, knife in hand, weeping helplessly into the cup with his beloved wife’s slain body in his arms.

Among the rich, you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistical, secretive, dry as old bones bleached by the sun. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.

No time to be greedy when you have nothing. Where I come from, most people didn’t see the beauty behind the every day, didn’t enjoy the simple pleasures in life, didn’t stop and smell the roses, and just because these phrases were considered platitudes didn’t make them any less true. For you can belittle truth, lambaste it, deny its existence, but truth will always still be there, as unconcerned as the inexorably flowing Mississippi.

It doesn’t surprise me when someone with my upbringing ends up the way I did. But it’s better to be poor than ignorant. We are thoughtlessly thrown aside and made victims unless we become the predators they fear. And I am convinced that imprisonment is a way of pretending to solve the problem of crime, but instead perpetuates the idea of retribution, thus maintaining the endless cycle of violence in our culture. It is a cruel and useless substitute for the elimination of these conditions — poverty, unemployment, homelessness, desperation, racism, and yes, greed — which are at the root of most unpunished crime. The crimes of the rich and powerful go mostly unpunished.

It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of prison survive it and hold on to their humanity.

Alas, I am not one of those chosen few. I’m chosen for something else, and that’s just the way it is.

Do you ever get the feeling the world’s filling up with bastards, Brian? I do. What I want to know is what happens when all the bastards run out of people to shit on? What happens when all that’s left in the world are bastards? The golden rule. Screw unto others before they screw unto you.

Your tests in life are different from my tests in life, you understand?

I’ve been sitting in this room all day, and this morning I was presented with a challenge beyond your Television title. Every two hours, starting at Noon, that thick metal door over there opened, and some scraggly, terrified person was shoved through in front of me. It was then incumbent on me, I figured out very quickly, that if I can restrain myself from physically maiming that person, I would be rewarded. No one told me what was going on. It was a happy puzzle to solve. After all, if you want to teach someone a new way of thinking, you don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking. It took me two of them before I figured it out, so they had to be dragged out of here I’m afraid. But I soon learned from my mistakes.

Like I said, I’m a lab rat, and I’m being tested.

Tested? Or trained. Trained I think, is the point of it. I’m to be a weapon, Mr. Hollywood. My benefactor wants someone who he can send in to do his bidding violently and efficiently, but only when he asks it of me. This is a terrifying prospect due to my life-long impulses, so you’ll excuse me if your challenges of life don’t move me. Forgive me if I’m preoccupied with more basic carnal emotions and keeping them in check. Because the third and fourth men were unharmed, someone shoved a big plate of food into the room for my dinner. It was a steak. I haven’t had steak in over ten years, and then it wasn’t beef that I ate.

I sit here and I watch the clock tick away toward midnight, and I patiently wait for the next man to come through that door.

I’m learning. I’ve always wanted to be known as a good boy.

At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that a man must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try and to try until it comes right. Hour after hour, day after day if necessary. He must be trained or train himself in ruthless intolerance. That is, to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing in life is insight, that is, curiosity to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does. And if you have that, then I don’t think the talent makes much difference, whether you’ve got that or not.

But maybe this isn’t training after all. Perhaps what it is, ultimately, is education. Maybe that’s the secret. If you would understand this secret, you must first understand the distinction between training an animal and educating one. Trained animals are relatively easy to turn out. All that is required is a book of instructions, a certain amount of bluff and bluster, something to use for threatening and punishing purposes, and of course the animal. Educating an animal, on the other hand, demands keen intelligence, integrity, imagination, and the gentle touch, mentally, vocally, and physically.

I can do this. I believe I can do this. I can keep myself from killing you, too, Brian. He wants me to simply beat you in the ring, to take the Television title, to beat all of you, and then be sent into the ring to face the World Champion, a trained and obedient, dangerous and deadly weapon.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we? Let’s worry about our time together, and you, my friend should worry about surviving. That isn’t an empty threat or a threat at all. It’s a simple fact of life.

Yes, it was nice to make your acquaintance, Brian Hollywood.

I’ll leave you now.

It’s 11:59 pm, and I’m about to have company.”


The floor of the white room is smeared red with the blood of multiple men. On the chair, Jeffrey James Roberts still sits but is chained to his seat with multiple heavy-duty sets of zip ties. Two men in gray work shirts are putting some elbow grease into mopping the bodily fluids from the floor. Roberts watches them both, intently, with no expression. Behind them, the thick metal door swings open, and the 4th Wahl steps in.

He looks at the workers, nodding approvingly, then strolls over to within about three feet of the prisoner, who has now raised his eyes to look at him without moving his head, gazing upward calmly and thoughtfully.

“He is… pleased with your progress. Your re-education is taking form the way he envisioned, and should you continue to excel, you’ll be moved on to something more… challenging.”

Roberts lets a wry smile curl the corner of his lips.

“How nice.”

4th Wahl glances back at the workers, then turns back to Roberts.

“Simply put, continue to do well, and you’ll continue to be rewarded.”

Roberts leans his head back slightly.

“One request, if you don’t mind.”

One of 4th Wahl’s eyebrows raised, intrigued.

“Go ahead.”

Roberts lets his eyes wander, tracing the lines of the walls and the corners where they meet. He rolls his head to one side as he does so, then rolls his head back looking straight ahead and looks at the huge man in front of him.

“I’d like to resume my writing. I would be most pleased for some writing instruments and manuscripts on which to write.”

4th Wahl chuckles.

“You want us to give you something sharp? We aren’t that stupid.”

Roberts cocks his head to one side.

“I don’t need something sharp to kill you, should I want to.”

4th Wahl snorts derisively, unimpressed.

“Is that so?”

Roberts snarls his face into a deep scowl.

“Why don’t you untie me and I’ll show you.”

4th Wahl continues to look at him, no longer smirking, then stands up to his full height and starts to turn away.

“I’ll pass your request along.”

Roberts smiles, then leans his head back, content as he watches the last swipe of the mop. The three men all head for the once again open metal door, and the two workers leave, and the 4th Wahl glances back once more at the prisoner, then leaves.

Several minutes pass.

The clock on the wall still ticks along. Roberts looks up at it. 1:59 am. It clicks over to 2 am, and he smiles.

Off-camera, the metal door swings open, and a shuffling noise can be heard as someone is shoved inside.

Roberts smiles widely, leaning his head forward.

“Hello. I’ve been expecting you.”