CMC presented the movie, "Dhamma Brothers" on Friday, December 5, 2008 as part of "Movies and Mind",a program where films are shown so people can learn buddhadharma through cinema on the first Friday of every month.
This inspiring documentary is about a 10-day Vipassana retreat at an Alabama prison. It presents many perspectives of the retreat through interviews with meditation teachers, prison staff, reformers, townspeople, family members of prison inmates, and the prisoners themselves.
While Buddhist meditation in American prisons has been in existence for years in various parts of the United States to help prisoners and staff, this is the first movie of its kind to show a retreat in the Vipassana tradition that takes place in the Deep South.
The prison is plagued with many problems—there is a lot of criminal activity going on within the system and is a breeding ground for even more criminal behavior. Prison staff is seeking a way to reform prisoner behavior and invite two meditation teachers to reside at the prison during the 10 days.
Prison inmates recount their stories of their own troubled backgrounds and the gruesome details of their crimes. Their experiences of meditation are not unlike our own—they share their fear and wonder at whether they will be able to sit in silence for 10 hours a day for 10 consecutive days, the physical discomfort of this endeavor, the groundlessness of entering "the abyss", and the realization of the need to take responsibility for their lives and their actions.
The movie asks, what is the purpose and function of prison? Should it be punitive or rehabilitative? These two questions may help viewers think about our current prison systems, their mission and reality. From listening to and seeing the faces of the prisoners after the retreat, and how they are changed by the experience, movie viewers may feel there is a strong need to have these types of programs for prisoners and staff so that they may receive help in a meaningful and effective way.
After the movie, there was a discussion over dessert and refreshments. There were varying opinions about meditation in prisons. The movie seemed to be hopeful about the impact of meditation for the spiritual and moral development, rehabilitation, and peace of individuals in our prison systems.