For anyone who found the film Doing Time, Doing Vipassana interesting (about meditation in prisons in India) here, fresh off the camera, is a film about the same practice in a high-security prison in the US.
There’s an interview with the film’s director, Jenny Philips, which gives some interesting background to the project:
In the fall of 1999, Phillips, a licensed psychotherapist and cultural anthropologist, was researching meditation within Massachusetts prisons when she heard about a group of men at Donaldson who gathered on a regular basis to meditate. “I’m not sure why I went down there,” she said. “But I did.”
After an examination of the prisoners, through observation of their meditation as well as one-on-one interviews, Phillips found their lives to be filled with apprehension and danger and, even though many of these men were serving life sentences, they were still searching for some sort of meaning in their lives. “There was such a sense of misery and hopelessness there, but also such a sense of survival of the human spirit,” she said…
Phillips, a meditator herself, knew that meditation could offer the prisoners relief from suffering. “If you can find peaceful ways to live in prison, you’re going to be much happier there,” she said.
Getting a camera inside the prison proved difficult. “Prisons like to do what they do quietly and be left alone,” Phillips said.
But, after pulling some strings with Dr. Ron Cavanaugh, director of treatment at Donaldson, Phillips was able to capture the transformation of the prisoners on film. “I think it was the only medium,” she said. “The written word can’t quite capture them — and I think film is the most powerful medium anyway.”
I’m not sure how I might get to see this film but for anyone living in Massachusetts you can watch it at the Woods Hole Film Festival later this month.