Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Robert Hare: Expert on the Psychopath

Early Experience

Hare received his master's degree in psychology in the early 1960s, and before he could continue with his Ph.D., he needed to work for a while.  Thus, he became the sole psychologist for the British Columbia Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison near Vancouver.  He had no particular training in this area, or any keen interest in criminology, and to his chagrin, the prison gave him no introduction to his duties.  "I started work completely cold," he writes in Without Conscience.  He had to feel his way and hope he made the best of it.

<a href='' target='_blank'>Without Conscience by Dr. Robert Hare</a>
Without Conscience by Dr. Robert Hare
Some of the prisoners soon spotted Hare's naiveté, and they took subtle advantage of it by doing things like making him a prison uniform that did not quite fit and asking for unauthorized favors.  The first prisoner to visit him was a man he calls "Ray."  This inmate, who possessed an intense and direct manner, came into Hare's office with an issue that he needed to discuss.  He then pulled out a knife, startling Hare, but said he was going to use it on another inmate.

This declaration immediately placed Hare in a bind: if he ratted, the word would get around that he couldn't be trusted.  If he didn't, he'd be violating the prison rules.  In other words, in that moment, he had lost his standing in one of those arenas.  When he did not report the incident, he realized that he had been caught in Ray's clever trap.  Ray knew that the new psychologist was a "soft touch," and his manipulations continued.

Hare remained at the prison for eight months, and during that time, Ray plagued him with requests for favors, offering reasons that generally turned out to be lies.  "He lied endlessly, lazily, about everything, and it disturbed him not a whit whenever I pointed out something in his file that contradicted one of his lies."  Whenever Hare resisted him, Ray turned nasty.  It wasn't easy to know what to do with this man.

This was Hare's first extended encounter with what he would later realize was a psychopath.  And it didn't stop there.  Leaving the prison to return to the university to work on his doctoral degree, he eventually began to do research for his dissertation.  That's when he came across publications that described the kind of person that Ray clearly was: a psychopath.   

Still, Hare did not make the connection.  At least, not then. 

After finishing his degree and getting a teaching position at the University of British Columbia, Hare was seated at the pre-registration desk for classes when he heard a familiar voice.  It was Ray.

This former inmate, now standing there in line with the other students, was bragging about how he'd been Hare's assistant and confidante at the prison, especially on difficult cases.  Hare was astonished, so he confronted the imposter.  To his further amazement, Ray never broke his stride.  He greeted Hare and smoothly steered the conversation in a new direction.

Hare later wondered just what it was in this mans psychological makeup that allowed him to so effortlessly engage in manipulation and deception, without any apparent pangs of conscience or embarrassment. 

It wasn't long before he was fully engaged in studying that very personality type, and it was to become his lifelong occupation.  There were many more people like Ray, both in prison and outside.

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