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A Movie & Stuff

September 19, 2012

I don’t usually tout movies unless it’s something that comes up in conversation but I watched this movie yesterday – or documentary, so I guess it’s technically not a movie – called The Dhama Brothers and I thought it was very good and worth sharing. It’s 2007 documentary about an experimental prison program at the W.E. Donaldson Correctional Facility down in Alabama where inmates – men on death row and other serving life sentences – convicted of horribly violent crimes and guilty of behavioral problems while in prison, attend a ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat in the prison. The personal transformations described by the prisoners after continuing to practice meditation were amazing.

Would I want to want to be friends with these newly self-realized people despite their violent pasts? I don’t know, I can’t say, but it’s not because of any judgment toward them, but because the documentary didn’t go into enough personal details of the participants after the fact which was the only weak part of the movie as far as I’m concerned.

What struck me the most about the movie was, if you dig under the surface, how little difference there is between me (and every one of us) and these inmates. No, we’re not out committing horribly violent crimes, but what’s behind the crimes, the influences, the motivations, the impulsiveness, the emotions – the fear and anger – that’s what is similar, that is what we all have in common. A sociologist could explain why they made the decisions that I didn’t make, but the reality is that anyone could make those very same decisions and be in that very same situation.

Sadly, the warden shut down the meditation program after receiving pressure from the prison’s chaplain who complained that the meditation program was taking inmates away from his services and Christianity; this despite Vipassana mediation being a secular practice. After a changeover in staff, including the warden, and I believe the prison chaplain, the program was reinstituted a few years later.

“Life without parole doesn’t mean that you’re to be punished, or worked, or any of that. It means you’re to be warehoused ‘til you die.” – Grady Bankhead, The Dhamma Brothers.

More food for thought from the movie is how do we as a society treat our inmate population? Do we lock them up in cages and wait for them to die or go back out and reoffend, or do we help them realize their mistakes and teach them that they are more than their bad decisions and offer them the respect and dignity we afford all life?



I submitted four poems to Narrative Magazine’s 4th annual poetry contest back in the middle of July. I really liked the poems and thought I (naively it would turn out) had a chance with at least one of them but I got the rejection today. I’m not <sniff, sniff> good enough. Oh well, what do they know anyway.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained and I know there’s a bakery in town with a thick, gooey, chocolate frosted brownie with my name on it tonight.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2012 2:13 pm

    I say good for you for putting yourself out there. I agree, “What do they know anyway.”

    Write on!


  2. September 29, 2012 6:23 pm

    This film documents a terrific program. Glad the program is reinstated. Small world- I’m a Boston-based documentary filmmaker and know two of the people involved in making the film. Love the sentiments in your last paragraph. Well said.


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