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My name is Brian Cooper and I’ve been meaning to tell my side of this story for some time. My family have put up with so much, the night terrors, the paranoia, and the constant flashbacks. My son said it might help if I wrote down what happened to me, so he set me up with this blog. I only hope I can do my story justice. For years, it’s been written off as a failed experiment, or maybe one that went too well. The truth is only known to a few. Those of us who took part and the people who ran it. I guess it’s up to me to tell the world what happened for those six days the nine of us spent in the basement of Stanford University.

It all started in 1971 with an ad in the local newspaper. Some eggheads at the college wanted volunteers for a study into prison life and were willing to pay $15 per day for two weeks. That’s almost thirteen hundred bucks today! I was a poor English major and needed the money so I signed myself up straight away. A friend of mine had taken part in one a few months before and it was good money for not doing much. Hell, I even thought it might be fun.

I was called in a few days later for some psychological tests. Simple stuff really, just making sure I wasn’t a psycho or a pothead. After answering their questions, I was finally told that I had been approved and that I would hear back from them. I went back to my apartment and got back to enjoying my summer.

Day 1

It began on the morning of Sunday August 15 when I was awoken by the sound of sirens. Two police officers came into my apartment and dragged me outside. They pushed me against their squad car before thoroughly frisking me. I was scared to start with, but being as I definitely hadn’t committed the armed robbery they were accusing me of I assumed correctly that the experiment had begun. I’ll admit to a brief flash of excitement as they handcuffed me and put me in the back of the car.

A few minutes later we reached the police station where they read me my rights and booked me in. I was slightly confused when they blindfolded me and led me to what I assume was a holding cell. I sat there for at least half an hour with nothing but the sound of my own breath for company. Then I heard the door of the cell creak open. I heard irregular footsteps walking towards me. I felt fear well up in my chest. I could hear the creaking, raspy breath of whatever it was that had come to claim me. I was pulled to my feet and I heard a human voice.


“You’re coming with me boy,” I felt the thing push me forward. I could sense a change in the air as I entered the corridor outside the holding cell. I could feel the wetness of this thing’s breath against the back of my neck. I was about to cry out when I heard another voice ahead of me,

“Is this the last of them?”

“Yep,” the thing rasped, “All present and correct.”

“Good, put him with the rest and take them to county.” The amusement in his voice was almost palpable. I felt myself being pushed forward once again and placed inside another car. I felt my shoulders rest against a person next to me. I had to try and get some answers.

“Hey buddy, what’s…” I whispered. I was immediately interrupted by a voice from the front seat.

“You’ll shut the fuck up if you know what’s good for you,” from then on, I decided to take the voice’s advice.

It wasn’t long before the squad car stopped and I was dragged into another building. I gasped as my blindfold was removed. Once my vision cleared I found myself in a brightly lit corridor with two men in guard uniforms flanking me. Of whatever monstrosity that had brought me here, there was no sign. They started to remove my clothes and search me for contraband. They then proceeded to cover me in a delousing spray that stung my eyes, it was exactly like prison. I was given a uniform, more of a hospital gown really, and a stocking was pulled over my hair. I was taken to the end of the corridor where two other prisoners were waiting for me. They blindfolded us again and led us to the second of three identical cells that would be our home for the foreseeable future, a tiny room with three cots and not much else. We filed in and I was pleased to see that I got the cot furthest from the door. I hadn’t been able to shake the thoughts of the beast that I had met at the police station and I was glad to have a couple of bodies between me and the guards.

We spent most of the rest of the day in silence, talking was discouraged. I didn’t know the other prisoner’s names, only the numbers we were given at the beginning of the experiment. Mine was 819. I decided to try and get some sleep at what I assume was around ten pm, there were no clocks in this “prison” so I had to take a guess, but god knows I needed it. Sleeping proved to be more difficult than I expected. We were constantly woken up for random counts. However, it’s what I saw that night that kept me awake.

I’ve no idea what time it was, all I know is that it was dark. I was awoken by the sound of the cell door opening. Before I even opened my eyes, I felt fear rise in me as I heard a familiar sound. A wet, rasping breath and irregular footsteps. I opened my eyes to see a figure standing over prisoner 8612, nearest the door. At first It just looked like a guard, same uniform, same sunglasses that they all wore, the whole deal. I watched through half open eyes, a fist clenching round my stomach as I saw its lower jaw split down the middle and open wide. A tongue like a snake’s unrolled from it’s throat, fat and forked. I saw the figure lean over 8612, it’s tongue slowly licking up his arm before violently forcing it’s way into his ear. I’ll never forget the look on 8612’s face. He was awake too. I saw the mixture of revulsion and terror pass over his features, his pupils were mere pinpricks in the whiteness of his eyes. I heard a door at the entrance to the main corridor open and suddenly the thing appeared human again. It straightened up and walked out of the cell, locking the door behind it. I knew we had to protect ourselves. We’d signed up for an experiment, but not for this. We tore off our numbers in a childish show of defiance to our captors and barricaded the cell door with our beds. It wasn’t much, but it’s all we could think of to prevent ourselves getting molested by that thing. I heard the other prisoners doing the same. It seems I wasn’t the only one who realized something was wrong.

Day 2

We lasted till the next morning, we didn’t see the creature for the rest of the night. We were just starting to relax when the guards had their shift change. In walked a new set of tormentors. My heart dropped as I recognized who was bringing up the rear. It had returned, and by the looks of things, it was angry. We reveled in our new-found power and taunted the guards. We laughed as they berated the night shift for letting us rebel. As they left, still shouting at each other, I saw the creature following them out, as it was about to leave it pulled down it’s sunglasses and stared right at me. I saw eyes that reflected the mirroring of its glasses, it smiled and gave a wink. It knew this wasn’t over.

They were back within the hour with reinforcements. We managed to hold our ground for a while, forcing ourselves against the doors. It was going well until I saw the beast pick up a fire extinguisher and unleash its carbon dioxide at us. The pain was excruciating! We had no choice but to fall back to the rear of our cell. The guards surged in, jumping over our makeshift barricade. The creature pinned me against the wall and started to strip me. I felt its rancid breath on me and, as I heard the prisoners in other cells succumbing to this onslaught, it whispered into my ear,

“This was always going to be tough, but it will be tougher if you’re stupid.” A name rose in my brain, a name that would stick to this beast for as long as I lived. A name that had previously held so many good memories for me, now forever tainted. John Wayne.

The day got worse from there, the guards were thinking up new and terrible ways to punish us. They controlled when we ate, when we drank and when we shit. As ringleaders of the rebellion, 8612 and I were placed in solitary confinement for what I think was an hour. The entire time I heard him sobbing. As the day went on we were returned to our cells, 8612 got worse and worse. His crying turned to an uncontrollable rage. He would punch and scratch at the walls, his hands splattering blood on the plaster. What got to me most wasn’t his self-harm or incoherent ramblings, it was his eyes. I’d look into them and see that they had become mirrors, not in a metaphorical sense, but actually reflective. Just like John Wayne’s eyes. The guards that were still capable of compassion took him to see the doctor running the experiment. Needless to say, John Wayne went with them, no doubt to make sure he didn’t say too much. I can only imagine what happened to him because, when he was finally brought back, all he would do was sit in the corner, saying to himself over and over again,

“You can’t leave, you can’t quit.” All the while staring at me with his mirrored eyes.

That evening he broke, his rage returned and he began to scream, clawing at his skin. I saw John Wayne walk past our cell and he just looked in and laughed. A cruel, merciless laugh. I felt my own rage build up inside me. This thing was toying with us, with all of us. I hated this thing with all my being. I’d never felt so impotent. Eventually they took 8612 away, he was replaced the next day. I never saw him again.

The prisoners who weren’t involved in our rebellion got slightly better treatment than the rest of us. They were put in their own cell. They got their clothes and beds back, they were even allowed to clean themselves. We hated them almost as much as the guards. As they smugly walked past us I noticed they were being led by John Wayne. Suddenly I felt almost sorry for them. Our tormentor had some new pets.

That night things got worse. As we were settling down for lights out the night shift came on duty, of course, John Wayne was with them. Did this bastard never sleep? As he passed my cell he nodded to the guards he was with. Wordlessly, they opened the cell door, I stood up to try and talk to them but one immediately knocked me to the floor with a Billy club to the face. I felt blood spring from my lower lip and start to drip down my chin. Before I had the chance to process what was happening they started to beat us in earnest. Clearly eager to pay us back for the embarrassment we caused them the night before. What shocked me is throughout this entire ordeal they never said a word. Their faces remained expressionless as they rained blows down on me and my cellmates. All the while I saw John Wayne staring through the bars, that same old smirk on his face, pitiless and sadistic. Eventually the punishment lessened before they finally left us in peace. I watched as they exited the cell and crossed the corridor to the opposite cell. I saw the prisoners contained in shrink back in horror before being subjected to the same brutality that was inflicted on us. As this was happening, I saw John Wayne step into the third and final cell, the cell where he had kept his “privileged” prisoners. The darkness began to close in and over the wet sounds of club hitting meat I heard a scream, then another and finally a third and final scream. He was feeding. I passed out. There didn’t seem to be anything else I could do.

Day 3

The next morning, I awoke with a pounding headache. Before I knew what was happening we were dragged out of our cells for count. I saw the “privileged” prisoners come out of their cell. They looked haggard and weak, mere husks compared to the strong men they had been when they entered. John Wayne pushed them towards the cell opposite whilst the guards moved the cells occupiers to the privileged cell.

“I think you’ve served your time boys,” John Wayne said as they passed, “nothing but the high life for you now.” Wordlessly, the husks moved into the cell and turned to face me. I grimaced as I saw their eyes were mirrored. They were his now.

The day shift was no more forgiving than their nocturnal colleagues, except these men preferred a different kind of punishment. For the rest of the morning we were forced to do pushups, jumping jacks and anything else they could imagine to break us. My muscles screamed in agony but whenever I fell to the ground from exhaustion. The guards would kick me and, without a hint of emotion on their faces, would say one word in unison,

“More.”

Finally, the enforced exercise ended, we were returned to our cells. John Wayne prowled the corridor and announced that today was visiting day, we would see our families. One by one the evidence of our torture was removed from our bodies. They forcibly dressed us in long sleeved shirts, to cover our bruises, washed and shaved us. When my turn came, who should step forward to do it but the bastard himself. I struggled to get away but I was forced against the wall. He sponged the dried blood from my face almost lovingly, one hand cupping the back of my head. He pulled out a cut-throat razor and I whimpered.

“Come on now boy, I’m just trying to make you pretty for your folks. We don’t want them to see you dirty now do we?” he whispered to me, “And of course, if you decide to tell them about me then I’m sure I can find other things to do with this razor. You understand me boy?” I gulped and nodded. He proceeded to shave the unwanted stubble from my face.

We were led out cell by cell, first the creature’s leftovers from the previous night, then, once they returned, his new playthings were led out. To this day, I’ll never know how their parents didn’t see the change in their sons and brothers. They seemed to be able to disguise the change in their eyes when required, but surely their drastic change in demeanor would set alarm bells ringing? I guess they just thought they were sleep deprived. Eventually it was my cell’s turn, I nearly wept when I saw my parents. It felt like an age since I’d felt their embrace. I couldn’t forget the threat John Wayne had made. I did my part and didn’t tell them about the horrors I had witnessed. They knew me too well. My mother said she had never seen me look so bad. Almost immediately John Wayne cut in,

“What's the matter with your boy? Doesn't he sleep well?" he said to her. He turned to my father, "Don't you think your boy can handle this?" My father, always proud, looked annoyed and said,

“Of course, he can – he's a real tough kid, a leader." Turning to Mom, he said, "Come on Honey, we've wasted enough time already." And to me, "See you again at the next visiting time."

As soon I was led back to my cell I cried. He’d played them, played them for saps. Through my tears, I saw into the privileged cell. I was almost unsurprised to see the inmates within staring at me blank faced, their eyes nothing but reflection.


Day 4

As soon as I woke up I knew something was wrong. I opened my eyes to see my cellmates standing silently at the bars. I thought I was late for count. This thought was further compounded by the sight of John Wayne standing by the open door, looking angrier than I’d ever seen him. I quickly stood up and took my place between the others. With veins pulsing in his neck, he took a deep breath,

“Listen up maggots!” He screamed, “I’ve heard a rumor that you boys are planning some sort of breakout. Well I want you to know that that isn’t going to happen!” His voice became more intense, more filled with bile, I saw streaks of spit begin to form at the sides of his mouth. “In fact, for even thinking of leaving this establishment I think you boys need some correction. You boys need to be taught, by planning this you are pissing in my face, and when you piss in my face, I shit in yours!” A guard walked into each of the cells and picked up the buckets that had served as makeshift toilets. They hadn’t let us empty them since the first rebellion and they were brimming with vile excreta. As one the guards swung the buckets, covering each of us in the contents. I gagged and fought to keep myself from vomiting. I hadn’t eaten properly in days and I intended to keep what food I did have inside of me. I snarled as I saw the bastard’s face turn into a sick grin,

“Look how disgusting you are!” He yelled at us, “You are filthy! Now I know who put together this feeble scheme, and I think it’s only fair that you do too.” He turned to me with a look of triumph on his face. “Isn’t that right, prisoner 819?” I gasped. I had thought of escaping many times, but I had no idea where I would even start. Who had told him this blatant lie? A chant rose up among the prisoners,

"Prisoner #819 is a bad prisoner. Because of what Prisoner #819 did, my cell is a mess, Mr. Correctional Officer."

I realized that every inmate had turned to face me. Their eyes gleaming with reflected light. I looked to my cellmates for support. They both slowly turned and I dropped to my knees as I saw their eyes were the same as the others. He was just toying with me. He knew there was no escape plot, he’d just made up this ruse to show me that I had nowhere to hide, that I was his and his alone. The prisoners continued their chant,

"Prisoner #819 is a bad prisoner. Because of what Prisoner #819 did, my cell is a mess, Mr. Correctional Officer."

John Wayne pushed me against the back wall of my cell.

"Prisoner #819 is a bad prisoner. Because of what Prisoner #819 did, my cell is a mess, Mr. Correctional Officer."

He held his arm across my throat,

"Prisoner #819 is a bad prisoner. Because of what Prisoner #819 did, my cell is a mess, Mr. Correctional Officer."

His features twisted as I saw his lower jaw separate once again,

"Prisoner #819 is a bad prisoner. Because of what Prisoner #819 did, my cell is a mess, Mr. Correctional Officer."

I saw his fat, forked tongue slither its way out of his gaping maw, I could smell the stink of his breath once again,

"Prisoner #819 is a bad prisoner. Because of what Prisoner #819 did, my cell is a mess, Mr. Correctional Officer."

Tears started pouring from my eyes and I let out a scream as his tongue wormed its way up my neck and started to pry at my lips. As I felt it begin to descend down my throat, everything went black.

I awoke in an office chair with an involuntary yelp. I heard a soothing voice say,

“It’s OK, It’s OK. You’re safe now.” It was the psychiatrist that was running the experiment. I was about to scream again when I saw his eyes. They were… normal.

"Listen, you are not #819. You are Brian Cooper, and my name is Dr. Zimbardo. I am a psychologist, not a prison superintendent, and this is not a real prison. This is just an experiment, and those are students, not prisoners, just like you. Let's go."

"Okay, let's go." I said, relief flooding through me. I was led out of the university and into the bright afternoon sunshine. It was over.

I was told never to speak of what happened in that place and was paid handsomely to never mention it again. Just another academic covering his ass. It seems they realized what was going on in that “prison” and had pulled me out just in time, not that they told the public that. I assume they spun some bullshit story to keep their experiment credible. They promised me as soon as the others were debriefed they would end the experiment. From what I understand they were all released the next day. I have no idea if those prisoners or guards ever recovered. I dropped out of college pretty soon after that and went back home to live with my folks. I made a life for myself, a quiet life, a safe life. But to this day I wake up drenched in sweat at the thought what happened in that basement in 1971. Every night when I look in the mirror I see those eyes staring back at me, reminding me that I’ll always be his. His and his alone.



Written by Stex85 
Content is available under CC BY-SA