The Dhamma Brothers

Noah, Ben and Fred napping

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.

view the trailer

Omar Rahman, Dhamma Brother
“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
Prisoners at the Donaldson Correctional Facility

Mission Statement

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.


The Master Key System – The Secret


9 thoughts on “The Dhamma Brothers

  1. I, too, have difficulty meditating. I do best when I make no demands on myself, but I have a hard time relaxing. I love the photo of Noah, Ben & Fred. I was moved by your account of the meditation program in the Alabama prison. If there were more programs like this one, I wonder if there would be more rehabilitated prisoners.

  2. Amen to the comment above! We could take a lesson from the kitties who don’t seem to have any trouble relaxing.
    Thank you oldsunbird and thank you Mary!
    From Fran

  3. Mary – I just watched the trailer and was so moved by the inmates’ testimony! Thank you for telling us about this documentary. I haven’t tried to meditate in years (I felt the same way you used to) but have been inspired to try again.

  4. Mary…a most sensitive and lovely post this morning. Thank you for the wonderful recommendations and for the encouragement to meditate. I have found my daily, quiet meditation times to be my corner-stone for peace, hope and renewal. I have discovered a variety of different meditation styles that help me stay connected to that powerful voice within.

  5. Good morning Mary. I too have seen this film and I found it facinating and powerful too. Just thinking of what could be acheived by offering this type of meditation in our strung out prisons. I loved the fact they all signed up to do woodshop together so they continue meditating after the experiment ended. That tell me so much. It was a wonderful. Thanks for reminding me about this.

  6. The stories of the inmates are quite moving – their courage and integrity is inspiring – their lives confined by so many things they have no control over – yet out of this desperate situation we see the ability for these people to change and grow – taking personal responsibility.

  7. Thanks for this Mary. I’ve been so tied up in knots lately, with my daughter’s wedding preparation, I’ve barely kept up with your posts. Don’t know why it is that something so centering gets pushed aside when I am in my “too busy” mode. Love to you and the flock. Thanks for reminding me where to turn for peace…inward. And White Feather Farm, my compass.

  8. The inmates’ testimonies are indeed, touching. To offer such a resource to those incarcerated says someone still cares about them, that they too, are individuals that need to reach, just like anyone else, that place where their still small voice can still be found, lifted up, and brought to light. However that voice was smothered, however it ceased to be acknowledged and validated, however it was harmed and abused, it is still a voice wanting to be heard. And one that hopefully will discover the listening Presence of the One who cares, who turns no one away. To see those men sitting on the bolsters, eyes closed, safe, in quiet – those are gifts of the spirit that are priceless. I am certainly going to be watching the full documentary and try to find ways to get this ministry the attention it deserves. Thank you Mary for sharing this, and for the reminder to spend time in silence each day, if only for a few minutes.

  9. Mary, there is so much goodness in this life that we overlook in the media’s rush to fill the pages of newspapers with alarming information that your post was almost jarring to me in a sense in that I had no idea this programme existed. When good people do good things and they are received in like manner, it brings to mind the inherent goodness of humankind. Those who work in the rehabilitation of others whose paths in life have been heavily trodden, whose lives have been marked by misfortune, is remarkable.. I’m never sure just which direction you’ll be going in when I open up your posts. And how in the world did you get three cats to settle down in one spot for a photograph?
    SandyP in Canada

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