We watched a documentary last night called The Dhamma Brothers. It was so powerfully moving, at so many levels, that I found myself lying awake thinking about the courage of these men: the prisoners, the men who went into the prison to teach, and the Director of Treatment for the Alabama Dept. of Corrections who had the vision and insight to try something new.
For many years, I believed that I didn’t have the patience to meditate, but what I really didn’t have, was the burning desire or discipline to focus my mind. I’d justify this by thinking, “I know plenty of people who meditate and they don’t seem that happy or centered or …whatever.” But a couple of years ago, I found a book (The Master Key System, by Charles Haanel*, published in 1912) and the way that he introduced meditation made me think that maybe I could do it. He talked about simply sitting for 5 minutes, closing your eyes, (and not moving) as a start. Just quieting my body in this way was what finally brought me to fully embrace meditation. And instead of thinking of it as a disapline, or a necessary (but unpleasant) chore, I’ve come to love the feeling of calm that it brings.
An overcrowded, violent maximum-security prison, the end of the line in Alabama’s prison system, is dramatically changed by the influence of an ancient meditation program. Behind high security towers and a double row of barbed wire and electrical fence live over 1,500 prisoners, many of whom will never again know life in the outside world. But for some of these men, a spark is ignited when it becomes the first maximum-security prison in North America to hold an extended Vipassana retreat, an emotionally and physically demanding program of silent meditation lasting ten days and requiring 100 hours of meditation.
The Dhamma Brothers tells a dramatic tale of human potential and transformation as it closely follows and documents the stories of the prison inmates at Donaldson Correctional Facility as they enter into this arduous and intensive program. This film has the power to dismantle stereotypes about men behind prison bars.
“For the first time, I could observe my pain and grief. I felt a tear fall. Then something broke, and I couldn’t stop sobbing.
I found myself in a terrain where I had always wanted to be, but never had a map. I found myself in the inner landscape, and now I had some direction.”
– Omar Rahman, Dhamma Brother
“Vipassana is what all the other treatment programs are
hoping for. It actually works, and has a demonstrable effect
on the inmates and a positive effect on the staff.”
– Dr. Ron Cavanaugh,
Director of Treatment for the Alabama Department of Corrections
To create a national conversation and a call to action about the need for effective prison treatment programs through a national public television broadcast, widespread theatrical, grassroots and educational screenings, and distribution to prisons of The Dhamma Brothers documentary film. Both film and companion book, Letters From the Dhamma Brothers, open hearts and minds to the possibility that prisons can become places for effective rehabilitation, ensuring safer prisons and safer streets.