The Dhamma Brothers

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.

The Dhamma Brothers has its own website complete with trailer and details of a book of letters from the prisoners to accompany the film which is being published by Pariyatti Press.

That last link indicates financial support was being sought for the book. The film, clearly a labour of love, benefited from support from Rivers Cuomo of Weezer.

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.

4 Replies to “The Dhamma Brothers”

  1. Jenny and staff,

    Great job, the longest labor and delivery I have ever seen. Much kudos to all of you.

    Denise @ WEDCF

  2. Here are the show times and the book release date info:
    NEW YORK CITY Opens April 11
    Cinema Village, 22 E 12th
    SAN FRANCISCO May 2 – May 8
    The Red Vic Moviehouse, 1727 Haight
    LOS ANGELES Opens May 9
    Laemmle’s Sunset 5
    8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
    SEATTLE May 9 – 14
    The Grand Illusion Cinema, 1403 NE 50th
    PORTLAND, OR. May 17-18 and 24-25
    Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Boulevard
    BOSTON Opens May 16
    Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St Brookline
    The Film The Dhamma Brothers
    The Book Letters from the Dhamma Brothers
    Publisher: Pariyatti Press.
    Book size is 6×9; 240 pages; list price $15.95.
    With a foreword by Robert Coles, and an introduction by Lucia Meijer, the book includes an overview of how Vipassana came to Donaldson Prison, 50+ photographs, letters from the inmates and others, a chapter on incarceration trends, and a postscript on the return of Vipassana to Donaldson. Endorsements
    have been received from Congressman John Lewis, Sr. Helen Prejean, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Scott Harshbarger, among others.
    Advance purchase price through April: $12.95* from Pariyatti ( *plus shipping and tax.
    In bookstores July / August, 2008

  3. I’ll buy the book when it comes out but will the film be released on DVD at any time in the semi-near future? I teach Vipassana and yoga in a variety of settings, among them at a psychiatric hospital with a high population of prisoners. I would love to learn about engagement techniques (some people take to it quickly, some slowly, and some just won’t. I think there’s a possiblity that the negative and sometimes mocking attitude of some of the psych techs is the reason for this. It’s much more difficult to “sell” to staff.
    The trailer I watched was incredibly inspirational.
    Namaste, Susi

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