so earlier today (well, technically yesterday...), i went to the Brooklyn Library to see a film entitled The Dhamma Brothers. the abstract said it was a documentary about four death row inmates that had taken up Vipassana Meditation and how it changed them.
and it was an enlightening film.
there were four main men in the film, but it went through interviews with a number of the inmates in this prison in Bessemer, Alabama (on the outskirts of Birmingham). in 2002, one of the officials that runs the Donaldson Prison had somehow heard about Vipassana Meditation being used in prisons in India, and decided to give it a try in the prison he ran.
Vipassana Meditation starts with a 10 day retreat in which one cannot communicate with others; they cannot speak, they cannot do any type of work, they cannot exercize..etc. they must also refrain from praying, sex, reading, writing, and other disciplines. during this time they meditate for most of the day, breaking for restroom and meal breaks.
in the film, there were about 25 inmates that went through the course, 4 or 5 of which shared their experience in camera. many of them said that it was the hardest thing they had to do. that sitting and thinking about your life, your choices, your future, your family, your victim(s) and their families was the hardest thing they've ever gone through.
the handout that i got during the film says this:
"Vipassana means 'to see things as they really are'. it is a logical process of mental refinement through self-observation.
from time to time, we all experience agitation, frustration and disharmony. when we suffer, we do not keep our misery limited to ourselves; instead, we keep distributing it to others. certainly this is not the proper way to live. Vipassana enables us to experience inner peace; it purifies the mind, freeing it from suffering and the deep-seated causes of suffering. the practice leads step-by-step to the highest spiritual goal of full liberation from all mental defilements.
apparently, Donaldson Prison has gone from being one of the worst prisons in the United States, in terms of the number of stabbings, deaths, and all around violence to being.....on the same level with shankings as other prison?....i don't know. something along those lines.
now whether the violence has been reduced because these men have actually had a change in...spirits and have found other ways to channel their anger...or whether they have committed fewer of these acts due to their time simply being consumed by meditation....is debatable. being an optimist though, i would like to believe the former. its probably a combination of both.
the most important message i walked away from the film and discussion was that prison inmates ARE human beings. it sounds like something we all know, but i think its often forgotten.
going back to a similar message of my post on 'What is a Slave?', someone in the film remarked that the people who run prisons, politicians, and voters often forget that these men and women are human beings. labeling them as "murderers" and the like labels them from their worst action. i've lied in the past many times, does that mean my ultimate label should be "liar"? this makes sense (sorry, i debate with myself sometimes...), however, lying cannot be compared to slitting the throat of another human being. Hitler and Pol Pot are known for their worst actions (genocide) because it was so significant to other people's lives. the same with murder and rape.
but although it is hard for me to look at, say, a pedophile as anything other than a vile, sick animal, this film brought home the idea that they still need to be treated like human beings. i think a good way one can judge the civility of a country or people is to observe how they treat the offenders in their society.
and how do we treat ours? yes, they have their meals paid for by us, and in some prisons its like a damn club-med equipped with PSP's, televisions and gyms, but what can we say about how they are rehabilitated mentally, granted we can even term what they go through as "rehabilitation"?
i think you should see the film. it brings up many questions of how we/you see morality, human beings, society, the prison system...etcetera.
comment. think. consider Vipassana Meditation.
also, i just want to give a shout out to the public library. i seriously love good libraries, and coming from a town that had a collection of about 10 philosophy books, and nothing like these film showings to NYC with all this amazing shit....its wonderful. Brooklyn Library...Mid-Manhattan...Schomburg...yea, i love libraries.