DOING TIME, DOING VIPASSANA
Directed by Eilona Ariel and Ayelet Menahemi
Opens July 8, Cinema Village
Kiran Bedi, the female leader of a notorious jail complex in India, is determined to help reform the 10,000 men she oversees. She asks everyone for suggestions, and a jail guard tells her about a course he took in Vipassana, an ancient form of Buddhist meditation. She decides to invite a legendary Vipassana teacher in to give courses to the prisoners. The documentary Doing Time, Doing Vipassana depicts Bedi’s unusual experiment. At first the meditation classes are small, but eventually there’s so much demand that 1,000 inmates take the course at once. They sit cross-legged on the ground and meditate for 10 days straight without talking. It’s a stunning sight inside this notorious jail compound, which is better known for violence and corruption. The meditation course does indeed appear to transform its participants; the film shows many of them hugging the prison’s director at the end, and some are even weeping. Afterward, inmates testify to the benefits of their 10-day meditation—to eliminate their revenge fantasies, diminish their anger, and force them to confront past mistakes. There are no guarantees that Vipassana meditation will keep these men out of jail in the future, but there have been so many promising signs that the course has been exported to the U.S. In recent years, it’s been taught in jails in Seattle and San Francisco as well as in a maximum-security prison outside Birmingham, Alabama.