Doing Time, Doing Vipassana : Vipassana Meditation in Prison

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In the mid-1970s Vipassana was first tried within a prison environment with two 10 day courses being conducted for jail officials and inmates of a prison in Jaipur in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Despite the success of those courses, no further jail courses were conducted in India for almost 20 years. In 1993 a new Inspector General of Indian prisons, Kiran Bedi, was appointed and in the process of trying to reform the harsh Indian penal system, she learned about the earlier Vipassana courses and requested that additional courses be conducted in the largest prison in India, Tihar Jail outside of New Delhi. The results were dramatically sucessful. Based upon the success of these courses, another course was conducted in April 1994 by Goenkaji and a number of his assistant teachers for over one thousand inmates of Tihar prison with wonderful benefit for all of those who participated.

During the following winter of 1994-95, the Israeli filmmakers traveled to both Tihar and to the Baroda Jail in the India state of Gujarat, at which Vipassana courses had also been conducted. There they conducted and filmed extensive interviews with jail officials, including Karen Bedei, and inmates from many different countries who participated in the courses. The result of these efforts was an extremely powerful 52-minute documentary film entitled Doing Time, Doing Vipassana. The film describes the way in which Vipassana has been sucessfully used within the Indian prison system to dramatically change the behaviour and attitude of the inmates and jailers who participated in the courses and, thereby, improve the entire atmosphere of the prisons.

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana has been broadcast in many diverse international markets including the following stations and networks: PBS — USA; NHK — Japan; YLE — Finland; TSI — Switzerland; DR TV — Denmark; Channel 8 — Israel; and TV Poland. The film also won the prestigeous Golden Spire Award at the 1998 San Franisco International Film Festival. The Festival’s management wrote as follows about the jury’s decision:

‘In giving Doing Time, Doing Vipassana its top honour, the jury for the category stated:

“The jury was moved by this insightful and poignant exposition on Vipassana. The teaching of this meditation as a transformation device has many implications for people everywhere, providing the cultural, social and political institutions can embrace and support its liberating possibility.”

This year’s Golden Gate awards competition was incredibly strong & close, as we had a over 1600 entries from 58 countries in the 35 categories.’

DTDV most recently won a “Silver Plaque” award in the INTERCOM — The International Communications Film & Video Competition, in Chicago.

The film also received an award in 1999 from the American National Council on Crime & Delinquency (“NCCD”). NCCD wrote as follows about its decision to present this award:

‘Congratulations! I am pleased to inform you that you are a recipient of the NCCD PASS Awards. The National Council on Crime & Delinquency is honored to recognize your excellence in communicating the complex problems of crime to the American people. We hope this award will serve as a contact reminder that your work can make a difference.

A distinguished panel of experts found your work, “Doing Time, Doing Vipassana”, to be worthy of recognition and deserving of special acclaim. This award is presented to members of the media who have made an important contribution toward raising the public’s awareness and understanding of our criminal and juvenile justice system.

Your ability to present the “why” of crime is more important that ever. Our goal is to reach the public with messages that make them think and refocus their attention on alternatives for social justice. We want to inspire hope and participation from our citizens by presenting other approaches — by informing local citizens of model prevention programs that exists in their very own communities.

We want to acknowledge the media’s success in illuminating the stories about people and programs that promise to protect children against involvement in crime. The council strives to advance and encourage a broad multi-media effort to help all citizens better understand the pertinent issue and solution approaches.’

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana is also proving to be a very effective tool in bringing about the introduction of Vipassana meditation courses into the prison systems of other countries. Such courses have now been given in the prisons in the United States and in other countries with wonderful results.


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