By Charles Mombo
Today, I was somewhat forced to spend some time in a psychiatric ward with three delusional patients.
Around 7:15 pm, after I left my favorite café, Sip and Savor, I got into my car and changed the radio dial from “WHPK 88.5 FM Chicago, Community Radio | University of Chicago” to “WBEZ – Chicago Public Radio 91.5 FM Chicago” not knowing what to expect.
The commentator, I forgot her name, was talking about an experiment that was performed in the late 1950s by a Polish-American social psychologist Milton Rokeach who taught at Michigan State University, the University of Western Ontario, Washington State University, and the University of Southern California. Rokeach gathered three psychiatric patients; each with the delusion that they were Jesus Christ and forced them to live together for two years in Ypsilanti State Hospital. Rokeach’s plan was to see which one of the three would convince the others that he was the real Jesus Christ.
By this time, I had driven my car from 5301 South Hyde Park Boulevard and pulled-over, somewhere around 1614 E. 53rd Street to listen to the story of the three Christs.
The initial meetings of the Christs were tempestuous to say the least;
"You oughta worship me, I'll tell you that!" one of the Christs yelled. "I will not worship you! You're a creature! You better live your own life and wake up to the facts!" another snapped back. "No two men are Jesus Christs. … I am the Good Lord!" the third angrily interrupted.
Although I was very upset and uncomfortable listening to the story, I stayed tune and continued listening as the commentator interview former graduate students as they recounted how Rokeach blithely and unethically manipulated the lives of the three Christs. Actually, the three Christs had names – Clyde Benson, an elderly farmer and alcoholic; Joseph Cassel, a failed writer who was institutionalized after increasingly violent behavior toward his family; and Leon Gabor, a college dropout and veteran of World War II.
The youngest patient, Leon was made to receive love letters from a female that was hired to pretend that she was his wife and in love with him. She professes her love and suggests minor changes to his routine. Then Joseph, a French Canadian native, was made to receive faked letters from the hospital boss advising certain changes in routine that might benefit his recovery. Despite an initially engaging correspondence, both the delusional spouse and the misleading boss begin to challenge the Christs' beliefs more than is comfortable, and contact was quickly broken off.
Rokeach eventually wrote a book in 1964 outlining his unethical experiment – The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.
In 1984, Rokeach eventually realized his unscrupulous behavior and apologized, "I really had no right, even in the name of science, to play God and interfere round the clock with their daily lives."
Rokeach died in October 1988.