• Prelude
  • Setting Up
  • Arrival
  • Guards
  • Rebellion
  • Grievances
  • Escape
  • Conclusion

Slide Tour

Parole Board

The next day, all prisoners who thought they had grounds for being paroled were chained together and individually brought before the Parole Board. The Board was composed mainly of people who were strangers to the prisoners (departmental secretaries and graduate students) and was headed by our top prison consultant.

Several remarkable things occurred during these parole hearings. First, when we asked prisoners whether they would forfeit the money they had earned up to that time if we were to parole them, most said yes. Then, when we ended the hearings by telling prisoners to go back to their cells while we considered their requests, every prisoner obeyed, even though they could have obtained the same result by simply quitting the experiment. Why did they obey? Because they felt powerless to resist. Their sense of reality had shifted, and they no longer perceived their imprisonment as an experiment. In the psychological prison we had created, only the correctional staff had the power to grant paroles.

During the parole hearings we also witnessed an unexpected metamorphosis of our prison consultant as he adopted the role of head of the Parole Board. He literally became the most hated authoritarian official imaginable, so much so that when it was over he felt sick at who he had become -- his own tormentor who had previously rejected his annual parole requests for 16 years when he was a prisoner.

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