Letters from the Dhamma Brothers: Meditation Behind Bars

Overview

Through intimate letters, interviews, and stories, this narrative reveals the impact that a life-changing retreat had on a group of inmates at the highest level maximum-security state prison in Alabama. The 38 participants in the first-ever intensive, silent 10-day program inside the walls of a corrections facility—many serving life sentences without parole—detail the range of their experiences, the depth of their understanding of the Buddha’s teachings gained by direct experience, and their setbacks and ...

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Overview

Through intimate letters, interviews, and stories, this narrative reveals the impact that a life-changing retreat had on a group of inmates at the highest level maximum-security state prison in Alabama. The 38 participants in the first-ever intensive, silent 10-day program inside the walls of a corrections facility—many serving life sentences without parole—detail the range of their experiences, the depth of their understanding of the Buddha’s teachings gained by direct experience, and their setbacks and successes. During the Vipassana meditation program, they face the past and their miseries and emerge with a sense of peace and purpose. This compelling story shows the capacity for commitment, self-examination, renewal, and hope within a dismal penal system and a wider culture that demonizes prisoners.  

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[An] extraordinarily telling and inspiring book, its contents a witness to the human connection achieved. . . . Jenny Phillips manages to enable the far off, the imprisoned, to become the reader's informants and teachers."  —Robert Coles, from the book's foreword

"An absolutely compelling story of an astonishing treatment program with prison inmates that, against all odds, actually worked. . . . Should reshape the ideas of all of us, policy makers and citizens alike."  —Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author, No Ordinary Time

"The stories ring with the truth and power of their experiences and offers hope for renewal and rehabilitation within a dismal punishment-oriented correctional system.  —Sister Helen Prejean, author, Dead Man Walking

School Library Journal
Adult/High School

Vipassana is an ancient nondenominational meditation technique that was revived by Gotama the Buddha 2600 years ago. These letters are a testament to the power that this practice has had on the lives of a handful of men in a high-security prison in Alabama. Many of them are serving life sentences, and all of them have struggled to find peace with themselves. The course has worked wonders for prisoners in India, where it was developed. For 10 days, the men meditated with three teachers, isolated from the rest of the prison population. They began by focusing on their own breath as a way of breaking down the barrier between mind and body. Out of the silence of meditation came an awareness that was transformative for these troubled men and that has lasted for years, even in the midst of the anguish of daily prison life. Teens in trouble or at risk would certainly find this book illuminating. So, too, would those trying to fathom how to lead a sane and peaceful life in a world that can be hard to comprehend. This book offers a chance to develop an understanding of how we can share a commonality with something as simple and as vital as a breath.-Will Marston, Berkeley Public Library, CA

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781928706311
  • Publisher: Pariyatti Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 930,064
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jenny Philips is a cultural anthropologist, a writer, and a practicing psychotherapist who teaches emotional literacy skills to inmates in both county and state prisons for the Lionheart Foundation. Her article, "Culture of Manhood in Prison," was published in the American Psychological Association Journal. Robert Coles is a child psychiatrist, a professor at Harvard University, and the author of more than 75 books. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for his Children of Crisis series, a MacArthur Award, the National Humanities Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. They both live in Concord, Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents


Foreword     ix
Introduction     xiii
Inside Donaldson     1
Graduation     3
The Journey Inside     5
Sowing Seeds of Change     10
Introducing Vipassana     12
Dhamma Takes Root     14
Setting Up the Vipassana Retreat     18
Free Worlders Move Inside     20
Working Deep Within     25
The Dhamma Brothers     33
Grady Bankhead     34
Torrence Barton     35
Michael Carpenter     36
Willie Carroll     37
Wayne Finch     38
James George     40
Charles Ice     40
Edward Johnson     42
John Johnson     47
Leon Kennedy     49
Benjamin "OB" Oryang     50
Omar Rahman     53
Larry Singletary     56
Rick Smith     58
Johnny Mack Young     60
The Letters     63
Before and After: The First Two Ten-Day Courses     64
Interview with Benjamin "OB" Oryang     72
Interview with Leon Kennedy     76
Shut Down: Courses and Group Sitting Privileges     79
Dhamma Brother Transferred     89
Interview with Edward Johnson     90
The Addict's Mentality: Not Just Another Fix     94
Support Letters to Pardon & Parole Board: Request Declined     98
After One Year, How Does Dhamma Fare Inside?     100
Wishes to a Dhamma Friend on a Course     111
Vipassana and Christianity and Islam     115
Interview with Omar Rahman     118
Interview with Larry Singletary     123
Underground: Group Sittings by Any Other Name     126
Cell Course Rings in the New Year     133
Ups and Downs of Dhamma: Donaldson and Other Camps     139
Life and Death: Dhamma Brothers Lose Loved Ones     162
Legal Again: Vipassana Reinstated; A Three-Day Course     168
Interview with Wayne Finch     170
Appreciation to the Wardens; Dhamma Rolls On     180
Parole Denied     197
Conclusion     199
Postscript     205
Address by S.N. Goenka at Donaldson     208
More about Vipassana     212
Glossary     216
Resources     218
About the Author     220
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