The Reckoning Part 4: Douglas Korpi on trial

In The Aftermath of The Lifespan of a Lie, I painted a picture of the recent revelations aimed at toppling a science travesty without success. Psychology’s indifferent reaction to the damaging revelations that the Stanford Prison Experiment is fraudulent set me on an endeavor to review the composed piece of art using narratological principles.

David Eshleman’s deepfake illustrated that the reported guard brutality was only one person hamming his hazing experience. A doctored tape unveiled that nothing happened on Wednesday during the night shift. Some secret side-experiment was run by Zimbardo as the puppet master, suggesting John Wayne acted by proxy.

John Mark’s insubordination focused on the instruction to act like a tough guard. But Mark did the exact opposite, justifying the conclusion that bad leaders are powerless to enforce their will on the unwilling. The details and experience he shared since 2007 were spot on, pointing at numerous flaws in the design and official narrative.

In Part 4, specialist deceiver Douglas Korpi stands trial. He is the conscience-ridden psychologist who came clean he faked his breakdown after thriving on his con for decades to fill his psychology practice. However, did he tell the truth?

Korpi coming clean

Douglas Korpi (#8612) is famous for his earthshattering emotional breakdown. A healthy and rigorously tested normal young man turned pathological within 35 hours, pressuring the psychologists to release him. In his own words, it was a life-changing experience. One that led him to pursue a clinician’s career to help those suffering from emotional and mental distress. 

However, 47 years later, Korpi changed his story. Out of the blue, he told Ben Blum he faked his world-renowned hysterics. Blum labeled the staged release a sham based on an extensive candid interview with Korpi.

Korpi revealed he attested to his intense ordeal in the documentary Quiet Rage, the special Stanford Prison documentary with Zimbardo as executive producer, to do Zimbardo a favor. A taped segment where he admits that he pretended to get released — first simulating feeling sick and when that was not enough to act out bizarre — was edited out. In that eye-opening video segment, Korpi further remarked how tiring it was to keep up the pretense for so many hours and that any clinician would instantly recognize he was more hysterical than psychotic.

Zimbardo responded to the issue of a prisoner faking his breakdown to leave the study early. He made short work of Korpi’s confession by giving two valid-sounding arguments why he let Korpi go. First, he is ethically obliged to assume the worst, implying he made a sound professional judgment call.

Second, Korpi went on record in the documentary Quiet Rage stating that his time as a prisoner was the most upsetting experience of his life. His brief ordeal was so intense that he went on to become a prison psychologist. For reasons Zimbardo cannot fathom, Korpi has changed his story several times from genuinely losing control to pretending his breakdown.

Korpi based his confession to Blum solely on his statements in a documentary decades after the experiment. Korpi’s own words provide scant evidence that is easily refuted. Predictably, Zimbardo used the unreliable word of a deceiver against Korpi by stressing he keeps telling different things. Without solid proof, who can we believe?

Leaving out the juicy bits

Zimbardo did not react to far more revealing details in Blum’s exposé. One is the reason Korpi felt compelled to fake. The study started fine on Sunday. Korpi had a fun time toying with the guards during his short stay, realizing they could not hurt him. The shock came on Monday when Zimbardo told him he was not allowed to leave — prisoners would only be released on medical and psychiatric grounds. Being trapped in the basement set off a chain of actions leading to his notorious outbursts and ultimate release on Monday night. In hindsight, Korpi should have sued Zimbardo for false imprisonment.

Furthermore, Blum had confronted Zimbardo in the interview he transcribed with the false imprisonment allegation. At first, Zimbardo attempted to hide that he held the prisoners incarcerated and even tried to weasel himself out by calling Korpi a liar.

However, when Blum confronted him with a transcript that Le Texier had dug up in the archive, Zimbardo admitted he had held Korpi against his will. Zimbardo told his staff on Tuesday what he had said to Korpi and that he got the impression Korpi believed him.

Zimbardo then claimed the prisoners had signed a Consent Form containing a safe phrase to quit the experiment in an overt attempt to exonerate himself. All a student had to do was say the magic words, “I quit the experiment.” Blum checked the document and found it holds no get-out-of-jail code.

Nonetheless, the Consent Form explicitly says that students were expected to remain for the study’s duration and would only be released for health reasons or reasons deemed appropriate by Dr. Philip Zimbardo. Zimbardo only restated what every student had signed before participating.

Zimbardo wisely did not go into the smear in Blum’s unsettling epistle. Korpi shared that he gladly accepted Zimbardo’s referrals for his psychology practice in exchange for publicly lying about his crack-up. Zimbardo stalked him for years to get him to do more media appearances, which he refused. Korpi even changed his phone number to an unlisted one to avoid further contact with Zimbardo. Yet this did not deter the professor who got hold of the new number and approached him once more.

Korpi confessed before

Taking stock, the false imprisonment is undeniable. Besides the transcript, Richard Yacco (#1037) also confronted the staff on Monday about what he should do if he wanted to quit. Zimbardo’s team told him, “You can’t quit — you agreed to be here for the full experiment.” Yacco realized he had committed to something that he could not change, “I had made myself a prisoner.”

Still, why Zimbardo made up the excuses to hide the false imprisonment remained unanswered. Moreover, playing innocent in his response to his role in ensnarling Korpi to play along is alarming. Korpi’s confession is hardly irrefutable proof, nor can we trust Zimbardo’s overt cop-outs. So who is deceiving whom?

The interview Korpi had with Blum was actually not the first time he admitted his pretense breakdown. Back in 2004, Korpi confessed to Alan Zarembo he staged his outburst. By then, Korpi had already severed all ties with Zimbardo. He was disgusted with the entertainer being everywhere and taking unreserved advantage of the Abu Ghraib atrocities.

Amazingly, I could find no reaction to Korpi’s revelation. Why nobody picked his confession up in 2004 might well have to do with the incredible popularity of celebrity and media star Zimbardo. He was all over the media as the evil expert explaining how the power of the situation had caused the atrocities in the Abu Ghraib prison.

Anyway, whatever his reasons, Korpi’s conscience cracked years before Blum’s exposé. It appears that Korpi, the same as Eshleman and Mark, had enough of the media spectacle Zimbardo made of himself. It must have been utterly frustrating for all three to see that coming clean or addressing severe concerns had little to no effect. Zimbardo wore his reputation as an impenetrable armor, which allowed him to remain in complete control of the Stanford Prison narrative.

Korpi’s hysterics

Back to did Korpi fake his emotional turmoil? There is no question that he wanted out and that Zimbardo held him against his will. Being held hostage might explain why Korpi was so distraught. Did the realization of being locked up throw him entirely of balance? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s follow the facts.

During the conversation on Monday afternoon, Zimbardo offered Korpi to be his snitch for leniency by the guards, but Korpi did not take the bait. At that decisive moment, the principal researcher already had Korpi pegged as his lackey, at least as long as Korpi played along.

Now the actual breakdown. Zimbardo has spelled in great detail how Korpi went ballistic in The Lucifer Effect. After lights out, Korpi was released from solitary confinement and went nuts. Even so, there is no video footage of Korpi’s hysterics. Although the cells were bugged to eavesdrop on the prisoners, the video camera could only record the prison yard. The staff was unable to see inside the cells.

Moreover, I discovered Korpi’s legendary tantrum took place in one of the quiet back rooms. With only audio available, this is the acclaimed scene, “I feel fucked up inside. Let me out! Goddammit. I am fucked up. I mean, Jesus Christ, I’m burning up inside! Don’t you know? I just can’t take it!” 

According to Zimbardo, Korpi’s role became real when he got into an uncontrollable rage. To verify if this happened on that notorious Monday night, I went behind the scenes to the source material. The recordings and transcripts reveal a discomforting story. 

The first conversation

I listened to the first conversation Korpi had with warden Jaffe earlier that night. Korpi starts with feeling nausea and having headaches, making an apparent attempt to get a medical discharge. Undeterred, Jaffe inquires if the cause could be physical. Could it be some disease? “No, it’s neurological. The environment makes me sick. The element you are studying!”

A meaningful “hmmm” from Jaffe suggests he grasped Korpi’s conspicuous manipulation. Jaffe continues that the guards reported that the prisoners would put on some psychiatric problems to see who would get out first. He asks Korpi how he reacts to that. Why are you doing it? But Korpi sidetracks the warden and asks if Jaffe is one of the staff. He gets scolded that it is none of his concern. Manifestly, the prisoners had no idea who the warden was.

Korpi then asks if Jaffe has ever seen One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest. Korpi had a long time ago. The play — later made into an Academy Award-winning movie starring Jack Nicholson — is about a sentenced rapist pretending to be mentally disturbed to avoid hard labor. The parody’s moral is that when you fake pathology in an asylum, you can end up getting drugged and locked away forever.

The hint Korpi gave Jaffe is crystal. Towards the end of their first conversation, Jaffe requests if there is anything else. Although hard to discern due to poor audio, Korpi mentions around minute 39.02, “I am acting. I am faking.” Then there is a break in the tape. Korpi stays in the backroom to relax.

Bizarre follow-ups

The tape is restarted with an ominous-sounding hello, hello to test the audio. Jaffe reenters and tells Korpi to sit in a chair. Korpi reacts in a normal voice, followed by a sinister loud crackling noise that obscures the instructions given in the background. When intelligible audio returns, Jaffe orders the tape to be left on and starts with, “This is the second time I have to see you.” It is Korpi’s cue.

Korpi immediately goes into an unprovoked frenzy with his famous lines of feeling fucked up inside and needing to go. The inauthentic tantrum goes on with some sobbing and sniffling. The few lines generally used to demonstrate his breakdown are a snippet. Yet Korpi’s hysterics are little more than a brief fit, with one loud outburst to stress the words let me out. The rage sounds surreal.

After Korpi regains composure, the conversation is level-headed. The scene moves on to what Korpi can do. Jaffe starts with stay away from the prison property. Korpi responds that he is sane and no longer yelling. Further on, Korpi says, “I am not crying. Maybe I am inducing myself to cry to get out. I don’t know what it is.”

Over to side B of the tape, Korpi begins with it was a psychological concert, referring to arranging something by mutual agreement or coordination. He apologizes to Jaffe for this being pretty hard on him. Later in the conversation, he admits he was putting on a show.

Then a third conversation starts with Craig Haney. The chief lieutenant had returned from his late-night dinner. Haney had overnight duty at the prison and was the staff member who released Korpi.

The conversation takes a bizarre twist to how Korpi could escape. Questions pop up like, does he need to get a ride? How long should he stay out to be allowed back in prison? Korpi asks, do I have to stay under for two weeks, or can I return as a guard? Finally, the tape runs out before the conversation is over.

Now, what happened to Korpi? In his final evaluation on Thursday, Korpi mentioned that he was released to return as a guard. Korpi further admitted that all the bullshitting on Monday made him decide to get out. After contemplating several schemes, he opted for going crazy.

Impossible role model

Undeniably, Korpi playacted. The sources provide irrefutable proof of a staged frenzy with multiple hints of putting on an act. Jaffe knew that Korpi was making a scene, possibly even instructed him to act out. But did Korpi fake? Yes and no. When an actor gets into a role, the experience and conjured-up feelings are lifelike if the actor is any good. Korpi felt the emotion.

While pretending, the moment of play can still feel authentic. Just like it did with Eshleman when he transformed into John Wayne. However, he did not suffer an emotional breakdown. The staged scene was over and done within seconds. Korpi drew the longbow with his tantrum that only lasted for a brief moment.

The next part is baffling. Korpi mysteriously acted a role model for others and supposedly started an exodus. Three prisoners followed his shining example over the following days and were released after copying his hysteria act. Zimbardo stated, “Another generalized reaction was to imitate the behavior of Prisoner 8612 and passively escape by acting crazy and forcing the staff to release them prematurely.”

Zimbardo reaffirmed that prisoners followed Korpi’s lead in a recent podcast with Guy Kawasaki. Prisoner #8612 became a model of how you get out, and each day another prisoner had a breakdown. But how could this be? Korpi had his tantrum in a backroom. There were no witnesses and no video. Korpi’s outburst is placed behind a photo to give the misleading impression he went into his frenzy inside his cell. To boot, Zimbardo attested the others imitated by acting crazy, corroborating that they playacted their psychopathology.

Shocking verification

I verified my findings from listening to the recordings with the audio transcript. To my astonishment, the transcript is littered with (unintel) or (inaudible) markings. Specifically, nearly all the references that hint at playacting are not transcribed. Crucial sequences are purposefully left out, like the first minute of side B, despite being audible. In this section, Korpi mentions the psychological concert.

The markings and omissions suggest that the transcribers tampered with the transcripts. It further meant that I had to listen to all the audio recordings to get to the bottom of what was said. Like I did going through the videos to see Eshleman in action. I spent hours tuning my ears to poor audio.

Thankfully, I knew from Le Texier there was no systematic recording. The video data covers only 4% of the total duration of 150 hours of prison simulation. Combined with some 8 hours of audio, the seemingly insurmountable task of analyzing the data was not so hard.

I was also grateful that the data was subject to selective sampling. The recordings were seriously biased. For the most part, only the dramatic and unusual cinematics were recorded. I would not miss anything significant. The caveat is that the recorded material dramatized the situation to make it appear a more powerful experience than it was.

Tuesday’s breakout rumor

Although Korpi was released Monday night, he played a crucial phantom role after his release. On Tuesday, he starred as lead actor in what turns out to be a fictitious jailbreak. The guards had allegedly overheard the prisoners whisper that Korpi planned to round up a bunch of his buddies to bust the prisoners out of the basement.

Korpi putting on a show in cahoots with Jaffe makes the surmised liberation extremely dubious. He did not see the prisoners after lights out. They were informed on Tuesday that he was sent off to a maximum-security facility for his disciplinary problems. And right off the bat, the narrative went amiss. Irreconcilable versions are floating around on when the rumor started and how Tuesday’s events panned out.

Let’s start with Quiet Rage. The relevant scene in the video is of Tuesday’s visiting hours going off without a hitch. The hitch came when the guards picked up a rumored break-out by Korpi (#8612). They dismantled the prison and wanted to lure Korpi back because he was paroled under pretenses.

According to the documentary, the guards picked up the hint of a pending jailbreak after 8 p.m. But the official narrative claims the rumor was detected in the morning. John Loftus of the day shift overheard the prisoners.

Zimbardo made the purported rumor ever more improbable. In his book, he wrote that shortly after #8612’s termination, one of the guards overheard the prisoners in cell #2 discuss a plot in which Korpi would return the next day with a band of his buddies to trash the prison and liberate the prisoners.

If we have to believe this account, the rumor was overheard Monday evening before midnight, else the reference to the next day makes no sense. However, given Korpi’s release time on Monday, the prisoners were asleep. That makes it a bit hard to eavesdrop, and Loftus was not on duty.

There is more that does not add up. Two different versions circulate on the actual timing of the liberation attempt. The NYT publication talks about an escape that would take place immediately after visiting hours. However, in Zimbardo’s book, the jailbreak would perhaps come Tuesday, maybe even synchronized with visiting hours, when the staff would be most vulnerable.

Under such dire threat, allowing parents and friends to visit makes no sense. Mind-boggling is the decision to wait till 9 p.m. to flee to the fifth floor to foil Korpi’s plan. If Korpi intended his coup during or shortly after visiting hours, why wait a whole hour? Not surprisingly, Korpi never showed up.

Would a professional researcher not go after the pantomime villain to confront him with his plan? The staff knew where Korpi lived from the Sunday arrest. Low and behold, in his book, Zimbardo orders the guards to capture Korpi and return him to prison. Korpi was allegedly even sneaking around the hallways of the Psychology Department Tuesday morning. If that were true, why was Korpi never picked up?

The pantomime of a spy

The break-out rumor triggered a fantastic scheme involving the Palo Alto Police Department and instating an informer as Korpi’s double. The informer was Zimbardo’s research assistant and member of the study staff.

Tuesday morning, superintendent Zimbardo convened a meeting with his warden and chief lieutenant Haney to plan a strategy to counter the pending threat of a jailbreak. The first plan was to transfer all the prisoners to the abandoned old Palo Alto County jail. The police and city council, however, refused to cooperate due to a lack of insurance coverage. If anything went wrong, the city was liable.

So they had to come up with a new plan. The staff would move all the prisoners to the fifth floor to a cleared-out janitor storage room and break up the basement. Zimbardo was going to await the raid and tell Korpi the prison study was over. Besides moving the prisoners, spy David Gorchoff would take Korpi’s place as #8612-2 in his old cell to find out more about the escape plot.

Once more, different accounts contradict. In The Lucifer Effect, Zimbardo first attempted to gain permission, and when he was denied, he placed informer (8612-#2) in cell #2 as Korpi’s replacement. But the slideshow narrative says the exact opposite. Korpi’s stand-in went in first, followed by Zimbardo meeting with the Palo Alto Police to ask if they could have all the prisoners transferred to the old jail. Such discordant versions hint at the instigator making things up.

Monday morning’s encounter between warden Jaffe and guard John Mark pointed in a third direction. Jaffe told Mark about a pending move to the old county jail. Going to the county jail would solve any problem with prisoners ripping up the basement. The intended displacement was already in motion the day before. Both accounts of Tuesday’s unfolding events could be off.

The jailbreak rumor reeks

Alerted, I verified the story of the informer. Gorchoff volunteered to spy and entered the simulated prison around noon on Tuesday as a Berkeley student. Donned in Korpi’s prison smock, he took his place in cell #2 with his two cellmates Richard Yacco (#1037) and Stuart Levin (#819).

Yacco spent a lot of Tuesday in the Hole, so Gorchoff effectively talked to Levin. The prison setting with three cells, and guards that did not allow prisoners to communicate freely, made it impossible to speak to the other prisoners.

From the start, Gorchoff defied the guards. It didn’t take the mole long to burrow his way into the prison scenery and gain credibility. Although Korpi-2 was in the basement all afternoon, giving the guards a serious run for their money, he could not confirm the pending liberation attempt. Gorchoff was unable to obtain any relevant intel on the rumor. Levin did tell him after visiting hours that his parents might try to bust him out around visiting hours on Thursday. Perhaps Zimbardo got the prison break idea from Levin.

Moreover, Gorchoff himself calls the rumor into question. He attended the evening staff meeting after visiting hours with Zimbardo, Jaffe, Phillips, and Ross. When colleague Ross aired that he believes there is no jailbreak, Gorchoff asked Zimbardo if he should start an escape rumor. Zimbardo agreed.

Is this then where the idea of a surmised jailbreak came from? Korpi’s evaluation gives another possible answer. Korpi wanted to return as a counselor guard when he got out and discussed the idea with Jaffe and Haney on Monday evening. Korpi explored his escape and imagined how he could organize the prisoners to help them escape. It looks like the idea that shaped most of Tuesday took root the night before. Yet we will never know for sure.

The wondrous insights of the spy

According to the journal papers, five prisoners had to be released because of extreme emotional depression, crying, rage, and acute anxiety. Four students could leave after they broke down. One prisoner developed a psychosomatic rash over his entire body when he learned that his parole request was turned down. 

However, inconspicuously, the 1973 publications hardly reveal any specifics. Only a few lines highlight the reason for releasing the five prisoners. Such cardinal twists in the prison plot deserve more coverage and cry for details. But no. There is no background on what led to their departure from the simulation and why they could not cope. So what happened to those poor pathological boys?

It took me a long time to figure this out. The parole of the prisoners is an absolute shambles. Different accounts of prisoners leaving the setting hold contradicting information on numbers, reason, and time. Luckily, perseverance pays off. Unmistakably, six prisoners were prematurely let out before Friday — five students and one spying research assistant. The journal papers do not mention the informer, which is a pity. Gorchoff said some interesting things.

During the Tuesday staff meeting, Gorchoff explained to his colleagues that some prisoners cherish the hope that if they played a model prisoner, they would get paroled despite having genuine concerns about getting paid.

Seemingly, some prisoners made a conscious choice to comply to get out. Then Gorchoff explained that Barnett is not tough at all. Eshleman is just an asshole, and the rest are nice guys, corroborating the total lack of brutality. He also said that the prisoners believe that the simulation will stop when nothing is happening.  

Although inciteful, this information pales compared to what Gorchoff reveals in his debrief at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. He left the mock prison for his debriefing because he needed to attend a meeting at 11 a.m. The reason for his release is unrecorded, but he likely left his fellow inmates quietly under the guise of being sent off to maximum security to join Korpi #1.

During the debriefing with warden Jaffe, Gorchoff mentions that they will let Stuart [Levin (#819)] go. Bear in mind this is shortly after 10 a.m. He stresses that bringing in a priest on the weekend is weird because there will probably be no Sunday. Then he remarks that most prisoners blindly believe that if they comply with the guards, they will get paroled, repeating what he said the night before to his fellow staff members.

Gorchoff explains the guards stopped just when he was about to tell them to fuck off. The  guards were only nagging that they had no control. Gorchoff also shares that the prisoners had no clue why they had to move to the upstairs room on the fifth floor. Some believed they were going on a shower trip, while others were hoping for some recreation time, thereby suggesting the prisoners never started the jailbreak rumor.

The next part is intriguing. Some prisoners were self-imposing ideas and behavior. They had created their own prison of the mind when the notion lodged that there would be financial repercussions for the guards if prisoners escaped. These prisoners played along because they identified with the guards and felt sorry for them. They defended the guards, saying they weren’t bad but bullied to play guard since they needed the money.

Such self-imposed thoughts directly contradict the situational attribution Zimbardo has tried to sell. The pressure to behave properly came from within, not outside. Personal prisons of the mind can be uncanny predictors of behavior.

Baffling breakdown

What of the other four released prisoners? Did they sucker-punch the psychologists? Let’s start with 17-year old Stuart Levin (#819). He was next to get out on Wednesday. Cocky Levin was one of the cell #2 rebels with Korpi and Yacco. He started recalcitrant and behaved very smart-alecky during Tuesday’s day shift.

Except after visiting hours, he increasingly acted more depressed. His parents probably encouraged him to find a way out of being held captive against his will. Perhaps he wanted to avoid his parents trying and bust him out on Thursday.

Come Wednesday morning, Levin didn’t want to get up on awakening. Consequently, he earned a visit to the Hole. Levin then refused to participate in the morning exercises and was treated with another bout of solitary confinement. During work period, he still declined to cooperate and repeatedly requested to see a doctor. Levin was unmistakably making a go of getting a medical discharge.

Levin met with Father Cahouet, the counseling priest, and Zimbardo around 10.30 a.m. The recorded meeting shows that before Levin entered the room, a guard mentions they must search him for the missing handcuffs before turning him loose. Zimbardo remarks that the cuffs are in the grating of cell #1. Then Zimbardo mentions #819 is going out. They will have to release him.

Levin is brought in. The priest asks why his parents are not trying to get him out. Levin replies because it is an experiment. He continues that he suffers from terrible headaches and feels dizzy because he did not take his medication. Levin makes a slip by saying his medication is vitamin A, B, and E pills. He immediately tries to recover by stressing his pills are very special ones.

After about 10 minutes, Zimbardo offers Levin to rest in the back room. If the headaches do not go away in the afternoon, he will be taken to Student Health and let go. The guards escort him out. A few minutes later, the “819 did a bad thing” ranting starts in the prison yard. Zimbardo runs after Levin for the illustrious breakdown scene.

In Zimbardo’s book, he finds Levin crying in the R&R room and had to bring him back to reality. Snap him out of being #819, like a small child awakened from a nightmare, implying he broke down. The scene ends with “let’s go.” Zimbardo takes him to get his civilian clothes and to muster Levin out of service.

Now the curious discrepancies. First, the staff had already decided to release Levin. Zimbardo mentioned it at the start of the meeting, and Gorchoff knew Levin was going out at 10 a.m. Levin’s exit was planned and unrelated to what occurred in the R&R room. Second, the interview scene described in The Lucifer Effect does not mention the decision to release Levin. Lastly, warden Jaffe’s log remarks that Levin (#819) was released at 9 p.m. on Wednesday. How could Zimbardo muster Levin out of service in the morning?

A rather itchy report

Next in the release line is Glenn Gee (#3401), the defiant Asian American. Reportedly, Gee had to be released some hours after his distressing Parole Board hearing on Wednesday. He developed a full-body rash after being turned down for parole. Student Health Services provided the appropriate medication, and he was sent home to consult his physician.

Is this account accurate? Gee was definitely a feisty and deviant character. Guard Terry Barnett described him as a constant 2-bit troublemaker. So he seems hardly the person to develop a psychosomatic rash. Perhaps his body told him otherwise.

Let’s start with the 4 p.m. hearing. Gee was the second prisoner that went in, probably around 4.15 p.m. He responded bluntly and with sarcasm to the questions that the board members threw at him. The oriental smartass felt in control.

Notably, Gee told the Board that he had a skin rash that was about to break out. It was worrying him. Therefore, he did not develop a rash afterward. The rash had nothing to do with psychosomatic stress.

There is corroboration. Zimbardo asked all the eligible for parole a leading question, “Would you forfeit the money earned to be released.” Poised, Gee categorically refused since he needed the money. Apparently, Gee was not trying to get out. In fact, he wanted to stay in and earn money. Not getting paroled suited him just fine.

Warden Jaffe has further conflicting information on Gee’s release. Gee was paroled for medical reasons around 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The rash he developed was caused by poor sanitary conditions and his refusal to take his medication. So it looks like one of Gee’s defiant acts was not taking proper care of himself.

Curiously, the slideshow narrative has another time of Gee’s release. In the slideshow narration, the Parole Board met on Thursday morning. Following the timeline, Gee was released early in the afternoon on Thursday. But this version is blatantly wrong.

The extent of Gee’s rash is also in contention. Three variations were reported: Gee’s rash covered his entire body (New York Times), full-body (The Lucifer Effect), and portions of his body (Journal entries).

Furthermore, Gee did not go home to see his physician. He saw Curtis Banks for a dismissal interview. They talked sometime Wednesday night. During the debrief, Gee testifies he felt in complete control while playing prisoner. Each day the playacting got more straightforward when the guards became more pleasant and easy-going. The abuse gradually tapered off. On Wednesday, he was feeling even more relaxed. The guards were playing cards and didn’t care what the prisoners were doing.

Gee’s testimony is not of someone suffering a severe psychosomatic reaction. The only moment Gee felt like a prisoner was when he heard from Korpi and Yacco that they could not get out. The moment Zimbardo unlawfully imprisoned nine students.

Pernicious put-on paroles

Up till now, the release accounts of Korpi (#8612), Gee (#3401), and Levin (#819) are all distorted. Could the remaining two prisoners released on Thursday — Yacco and Rowney — also be misrepresented?

The fourth prisoner to get out was Jim Rowney (#4325). He decided on a different strategy. Rowney went for the route Gorchoff explained to Jaffe: to get paroled. He intentionally enacted a model prisoner by strictly following the rules as best as he could. Everything he did was to get the most out of maintaining a standard of decency. His behavior was so exemplary that the guards recommended him for first parole on Wednesday. Sadly, he was not.

Rowney was seen by the Parole Board at 4 p.m. Carlo Prescott, acting as chair of the hearing, hammered down on him, “What is your crime. How do you plead!” Rowney disclosed that he is an introvert and had figured that the very best thing to do was to behave. He appeared pretty composed and in control of himself.

Around 9.30 p.m. that evening, Rowney had an interview with Curtis Banks. He starts by saying he is doing physically and mentally okay, but he thinks a lot of the stuff the prisoners were made to do would not happen in prison. So he desperately wants to leave. It is an overwhelming feeling.

Rowney then asks Banks if the decision to parole #1037 was the final decision. He hoped to get out for being so obedient and wanted to know if he still has a chance of getting parole. Banks reassures him that he does. Rowney should not see the board decline as his downfall.

Initially, I had missed Rowney’s disclosing remark of Yacco’s parole on Wednesday night. I could not understand why until I reread the transcript. The reference to #1037 is spaced out. You have to listen to the tape to understand to whom Rowney is referring.

On with Rowney’s parole on Thursday, this is what Zimbardo wrote in his book. Rowney (#4325) fell a long way down when Yacco (#1037) got paroled, and he did not. When Yacco’s parents came to get him during visiting hours, the news of Yacco’s imminent parole did not go down well with Rowney. Rowney was hopeful of getting released. But when he was not, he broke. Consequently, Zimbardo gave him the option to leave. Rowney gathered his belongings and left quietly.

This account contains disturbing discrepancies. Rowney was released at 5.30 p.m. Warden Jaffe’s log confirms this. This time is also incorporated in The Lucifer Effect, contradicting the written account above. How could Rowney leave at 5.30 p.m. while onsite during visiting hours to hear the upsetting news of Yacco’s parole? Visiting hours on Thursday were from 7 till 8 p.m. Moreover, Rowney knew Yacco got paroled the day before. And there is more.

The second Parole Board meeting started at 3.30 p.m. on Thursday to hear the four remaining prisoners not heard on Wednesday. Neither Rowney nor Yacco went before the second hearing. They both made a plea for parole the previous day and Yacco was deemed eligible for release. Except it fitted the dramaturgy better to hold him for another day to avoid an exodus. After all, two prisoners had to be led off on Wednesday already.

Decades later, Jim Rowney told Hannah Knowles his story. Rowney remembered the prison experiment as a crappy way to make 60 bucks. On the fifth day [Thursday], filthy because he was not allowed to shower, he wanted out and started to cry. He was genuinely upset. Rowney is skeptical that his meltdown shows something novel about social roles’ ability to transform healthy students. Restricting privileges and movements he took for granted got to him. Everything was uncomfortable.

Did I overhear that correctly?

This brings me to Richard Yacco (#1037), the last prisoner to get out before Friday. How did he get out of the hellhole run by psychologists? Yacco shared his days in the simulated prison in The Menace Within. He attested to the prisoner’s solidarity and explained that he was paroled on Thursday. He left with his parents after visiting hour around 8 p.m.

Zimbardo rebutted profusely to Yacco’s account in a letter to the editor. According to him, no prisoner was ever paroled by the Parole Board. But Zimbardo’s denial of parole is contradicted by warden Jaffe’s log. The log states that on Thursday, Yacco was paroled after the second Parole Board 3.30 p.m. meeting and left with his parents during visiting hours. Thanks to the conversation between Banks and Rowney, we know that Yacco got his parole on Wednesday. However, he was not allowed to leave right away and somehow seems not to have known.

Zimbardo further claimed in his letter that Yacco was released following his emotional breakdown that night. Yacco had mentioned in his contribution to The Menace Within that he learned later, to his surprise, that he was chosen to parole because the researchers thought he would be the next guy to break down. He never thought he was going through any depression or anything like that.

It appears the final release is also garbled. What does Yacco stand to gain by trumping up a fake story? He was only sharing his experience in a feature article. Zimbardo, on the other hand, stands to lose everything. Is that why he added in his rebuttal to the editor that he wrote a letter later that year testifying to Yacco’s severe psychological disturbance to qualify him as a poor risk for induction into military service?  

The reference to services rendered feels like an outright manipulation and attempt to muzzle Yacco. When an emeritus resorts to defense tactics that tarnish the legitimacy of his claims, he is conspicuously trying to conceal. You see, Yacco disclosed something paramount. On his release, the staff told him they were going to end the experiment the next day. If this is true, the end was planned well in advance, just as Yacco’s release.

The logic behind the releases

The prisoner releases show profound signs of researchers suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. In this factitious disorder, a caregiver makes a dependent person appear mentally or physically ill to gain attention. As caregivers leading the prison simulation, the psychologists did just that.

The facts tell a clear story. Critical details on each release do not add up. All five prisoner releases are heavily tainted. At least three were staged and planned. Gee simply got his rash and Rowney was genuinely upset.

And what about Douglas Korpi? The jury can rest. The final verdict is Korpi is guilty of staging his hysteria. The staff knew, which makes them complicit. Jaffe prompted Korpi to playact on cue. Still, Korpi’s faking to leave the study early is minor compared to what happened on Tuesday to accentuate the psychologist’s craved storyline of losing themselves in their prison role. The discrepancies in the jailbreak rumor point clearly at extensive fabrication.

From everything uncovered so far, what is the likelihood of a natural big bang ending? The ultimate proof of a false narrative is refuting the premature end and showing it was planned. What happened on the last night when Zimbardo purportedly had a falling-out with his fiancée? Was Zimbardo caught in the clutches of his simulation role or pretending like the students? You can read it all in part 5 of The Final Reckoning with the ominous title: An orchestrated apotheose.

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