In 1957, the Woodlake road camp prison in California began an experiment in convict rehabilitation. It was called "Operation Sleep." The idea was to use sleep learning to reform convicts. As the prisoners slept, they heard the soothing voice of a psychiatrist speaking the following script:
Listen, my inner self, remember and obey this creed of life: Live relaxed, completely and utterly relaxed... Love, rule my life. Love God, my family, and others... Have faith... work with others... Face life without fear, be calm, unafraid... Know myself and my faults... live without alcohol... Alcohol is a poison. I do not need alcohol. Abstain with ease. Alcohol is repulsive to me...
I am truly happy. I give my life to my family, to my friends, and to the world. I am filled with love and compassion for all, so help me God.
The script had been written by the County's Public Defender, John Locke, with help from a local Presbyterian minister, Rev. Glen Peters, and a hospital therapist, Robert C. Lally. They described Operation Sleep as "a type of brain-washing — but not the type used by the totalitarians."
Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any data on whether the experiment actually had an effect of criminal behavior. The superintendent of the prison noted, "We have had excellent cooperation from the inmates. But of course, it is too early yet to tell what effect it will have. We won't know until after the men have been released and face the temptations of freedom again."
The picture at the top is from Newsweek
(Dec 30, 1957), and shows one of the prisoners who participated in the experiment. The fact that he's sleeping with a dog seems a little strange. I guess the inmates got to keep pets in this prison.
Wilmington Morning News - Oct 11, 1957
I found a news story from 1961 offering a 3-year update on Operation Sleep. I'm actually surprised that the prison kept the experiment going for that long. Public defender John Locke claimed that the experiment had been showing positive results, but said they needed to keep it going for another 3 years to be sure. From the Ottawa Citizen - Feb 21, 1961
For three years now the sleep therapy program has been in operation. Locke and his associates are careful to admit that it will be at least three years more before anything conclusive can be deduced from the careful check they keep on prisoners after their release.
Almost from the beginning though, the guards at the road camps noticed that the young inmates did not cause the same amount of trouble they had created formerly and were surprised when prisoners started coming to them for counsel.
What is probably most indicative of the therapy's effect is the decrease in alcoholism revealed by surveys among ex-prisoners.
Category: Prisons | Sleep and Dreams | 1950s