Friday, December 05, 2003

Tonight, I watched "Das Experiment", a German film based upon the true story of the Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971. It recounts the tale of a group of test subjects that are divided into two groups--half prisoners, the other half "prison guards". It was conducted in order to "...see what the psychological effects were of becoming a prisoner or prison guard".

Stir-crazy is an apt term for the way the prisoners reacted to the confinement and abuse doled out by their "guards". The lines between reality and fiction began to blur as the study went on and the catastrophic results that came after the sixth day should have been expected.

In real life, the Stanford experiment was halted on the sixth day because the lead researcher realized that "...(the) prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically".

I won't ruin the punch of the movie by doling out all the twists and scenes that wind up "Das Experiment" but it will suffice to say that the ending is grim and bloody. In the real experiment, there was a rebellion fomenting by the fifth day and some prisoners had lost all sense of reality. Some even begged a visiting chaplain to contact a lawyer to ask for "parole". They were so convinced that their imprisonment was genuine that they even joined in chanting "Prisoner 819 is a bad prisoner..." at a prison guard's behest, when #819 was removed from his cell for beginning a hunger strike!

I think that the reason this movie was so chilling was that this is the sort of thing we subject millions of people to for various reasons. According to the Stanford Prison Official site, currently there "...are more Americans in jails and prisons -- both men and women -- than ever before in history." Considering that many of the prisoners in Federal and State custody are there for non-violent drug offenses, I think that the current prison system will do nothing to reform felons. In fact, it probably creates more crime than it suppresses since the unbearable conditions would break down any healthy mind. Imagine what it is like to endure 36 months of solitary confinement? It boggles the mind.

I wish that somebody would put the guys responsible for corporate crime into the same cages that they put the rest of the prisoners in. Then, perhaps somebody would speak out against this cruel and unusual punishment.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't lock up criminals, or individuals that are a danger to society. I just think that by treating inmates like animals, we are allowing the evil within us to take control. By torturing inmates with sleep deprivation, physical abuse, and solitary confinement, we are losing part of what makes us human. If you don't believe me, watch "Das Experiment", and see for yourself. (While you're at it, read Human Rights Watch and their section on Prison life around the world)

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