The Dhamma Brothers Film

Opening the way for the Vipassana Meditation Retreat and the filming of Dhamma Brothers within the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Dhamma Brothers – The Film

In 2000, Jenny Phillips Ph.D., a volunteer facilitator of the Houses of Healing Program in the MA state prison system, saw “Doing Time. Doing Vipassana”, a documentary film about a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat held in the Tahir Jail, a large, violent prison in New Delhi, India. Inspired by the film and aware of the profound opportunity that incarceration potentially offers for deep inner work and emotional healing, Jenny suggested to Lionheart’s Director, Robin Casarjian, that she approach the Alabama Department of Corrections (AL DOC) to explore the possibility of hosting the same 10-day Vipassana retreat for inmates within Donaldson Correctional Facility (Bessemer, AL). Donaldson is a high-level maximum security prison with a reputation of being one of this country’s most violent prisons. Stemming from the fact that hundreds of inmates at Donaldson had already been introduced to inner work and meditation through their participation in the Houses of Healing Program and the fact that Robin and Jenny had developed a close working relationship with Dr. Ron Cavanaugh, head psychologist for the prison, as a result of a Houses of Healing research project that he assisted with, it seemed like a ripe and most interesting place to conduct such a retreat.  With Jenny’s vision of a Vipassana retreat at Donaldson and her clear intention and enthusiasm, and with strong interest from representatives of the Vipassana meditation community (under the direction of S.N. Goenka), Robin wrote to the Commissioner of the AL DOC to seek permission for this significant undertaking.

With the strong support of Dr. Cavanaugh and the acceptance of the Commissioner, the AL DOC approved the retreat.

Jenny became the Director of the Vipassana Project under the umbrella of The Lionheart Foundation.  She raised all funds for the project and worked closely with the Vipassana staff, Dr. Cavanaugh, and, in the initial stages, with Robin.  In January, 2002, Robin and Jenny went to Donaldson and met with the warden, Dr. Cavanaugh, Vipassana teachers, and prisoners to support the launching of the first retreat.

Witnessing the effect of this retreat, Jenny had a vision to capture, on film, the power of this extraordinary treatment program and its impact on prisoners and prison culture. Robin and Jenny approached Dr. Cavanaugh and the AL DOC with the idea of filming within the prison and producing a documentary.  The project was approved.  In May 2002, at the outset of the second retreat, Robin returned with Jenny to assist with the filming and consult with the film crew. After the second retreat Jenny took full charge of the project while working with Northern Light Productions (Boston). In 2006, Jenny formed an LLC and the project was no longer under the umbrella of The Lionheart Foundation.  Jenny’s direction, creative vision, and enormous commitment culminated in the film Dhamma Brothers which is now available to the public.

For a history of The Lionheart Foundation’s work within the Alabama Department of Corrections and the Donaldson Correctional Facility click here.