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The Dhamma Brothers poster

The Dhamma Brothers

As co-directed by Anne Marie Stein, Andrew Kukura, and Massachusetts-based psychologist-cum-anthropologist Jenny Phillips, the documentary The Dhamma Brothers relays one of the most astounding recent tales of social evolution in contemporary America. The events in question began circa 1999, with several lifetime convicts incarcerated in Alabama's Donaldson Correctional Facility who commenced regular Buddhist meditation sessions in that institution. Deeply intrigued by this unusual sociological development, Phillips traveled to the penitentiary in the fall of 1999 to interview the men, and -- incredibly -- found that the meditation sessions prompted the group to look inward, facing their demons and the direct causes of their criminal activity; the sessions thus inaugurated an authentic, deep-seated healing process in each individual. Phillips interviewed the men one by one -- sessions that brought her face to face with their surprising openness and desire for permanent psychological and social change; the meetings raised serious, penetrating questions in Phillips' mind about the possibility of living a life of inner peace and harmony within the dank rot of the prison environment, and -- more significantly -- the possibility of permanent freedom from rage, violence, and the continued criminal activity to which those phenomena can lead. Deeply inspired, she returned to Massachusetts, contacted the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne Falls, and -- following a year of discussion between that facility and Donaldson -- prompted a 10-day meditation retreat for 36 of the penitentiary inmates. The Stein/Kukura/Phillips film juxtaposes footage from news accounts relaying the convicts' original crimes, alongside candid pre-retreat interviews in which the men look ahead and pontificate on the process and results of deep introspection, expressing their most deep-seated hopes, fears, and concerns. It also depicts the incredible process whereby the prison gymnasium was transformed into a Buddhist monastery, observes the day-to-day experiences of the retreat itself, and follows everything up with interview footage and correspondence demonstratives of the fundamental spiritual and moral changes that took place within the former criminals. In so doing, it sheds light on a group of societal outcasts who learned to achieve personal freedom and harmony even as their geographic and social liberties are severely restricted.