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Correcting our correctional system: The Dhamma Brothers

It sounds like a fictional scenario: Take a handful of prisoners locked away for life in a violent, maximum-security Alabama prison and guide them through a 10-day, 100-hour meditation odyssey. But as the trailer for the film based on the story shows, the tale is very real.

It’s also incredibly gripping, a tough look at our country’s correctional system, which all too often fails to “correct” anything.

Producer/Director/Writer Jenny Phillips writes that she first found out about a group of meditating Alabama prisoners when the prison psychologist invited her to observe their practices. “I packed my tape recorder and flew down,” she writes:

That visit and the stories that I heard while there set my course over the next ten years. Soon after that first trip to Alabama, I became aware of a meditation practice, Vipassana, which is taught in centers around the world and contains the elements that I had always thought were most needed in an effective prison program: the opportunity and techniques for significant introspection in a safe and supported environment. …

After witnessing the powerful convergence of an overcrowded, understaffed, maximum-security prison and an ancient, intensive meditation practice, I realized that this story needed to be documented, and could only be fully told through film. Since its theatrical release in 2008, The Dhamma Brothers has galvanized audiences, won awards, and received positive reviews.

Suffering is universal. The men at Donaldson are learning to become free within even while their bodies are imprisoned. In a larger sense, The Dhamma Brothers suggests the possibility of freedom from that which imprisons us all. The Dhamma Brothers are leading the way.

Phillips tells the prisoners’ story with grace, letting us see how meditation has transformed these men. Her goal was “to create a national conversation and a call to action about the need for effective prison treatment programs.” She has succeeded in spades.

Posted on July 2nd, 2012Comments RSS Feed

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