I came across a film on youtube called ‘The Dhamma Brothers’ , which is about bringing a meditation programme into one of the toughest prisons in Alabama. During the film, you see what happens throughout the 10 day retreat , and the transformation of these criminals.
They take part in a Vipassana meditation retreat which involves meditating for 10 hours a day, for 10 days as well as not speaking. The aim is to go deeply inside yourself and take a journey from within. They want to help these prisoners to be free from the prisons of their own mind and help them to ultimately become better people – because the reality is most of them are going to be let out, so they need to learn to deal with their emotions rather then keep them blocked up.
Sitting for 10 days in silence with nothing but your thoughts can be a painful experience for anyone, let alone someone who has done such terrible acts. By sitting and doing nothing else other then thinking, things start to arise that maybe you haven’t thought about for years , things that you don’t think at the time might affect you but in some way may have. They learn to go back to the past and work through these issues in their mind, and then move on in a healthy way.
You may be thinking why should we try to help these criminals, but wouldn’t we rather they come out of prison better humans, as opposed to being angry at society , bottled up with emotions and rage and more likely to commit crimes again? In the film you see that for some prisoners this is their last hope which is why they willingly volunteer to take part in the project. All you need for the meditation is yourself and your breath, therefore it’s not a case of expensive treatment being used on prisoners- once you teach them it’s free!
This approach was inspired from the award-winning film , ‘Doing Time, Doing Vipassna’, which takes place in the largest Indian prison (around 10 000 inmates), Tihar Jail, outside of New Delhi. Kiran Bedi was appointed the Inspector General of Indian Prisons in 1993 , and after learning about Vipassana meditation courses, decided that this might help in trying to change the harsh Indian jail systems. The results were dramatically successful; therefore inspiring other countries and giving them hope that this approach just might work- examples of a few countries are Israel, Mongolia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand, U.K.,Myanamar and the USA.
Psychotherapist Jenny Phillips was responsible for introducing the 10 day meditation retreat into the Donaldson Correctional Facility, in Alabama , and as well as documenting the film ‘The Dhamma Brothers’, in 2007, Jenny wrote the book ‘Letters From The Dhamma Brothers’ . The book has letters from a few of the inmates that took part in the programme with follow ups to their lives after the meditation retreat and how they are still using meditation to help them deal with their struggles.