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Documentary: Meditation Helps Prisoners Change Themselves

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MADISON — Can meditation transform the hearts and minds of violent criminals?
 
An award-winning documentary film based on a program in an Alabama prison looks at the issue. A free, public screening of "The Dhamma Brothers" will be followed by a panel discussion at 7pm Thursday, March 26, at the Friends of the Waisman Center Auditorium, 1500 Highland Ave.

The film follows the struggles and transformations of maximum-security inmates who participated in the first intensive meditation retreat offered at a U.S. prison.

Panelists include Jenny Phillips, cultural anthropologist, therapist and the film's producer; Lucia Meijer, a former Seattle warden whose correctional facility hosted 20 such intensive meditation courses; Richard Davidson, UW-Madison professor of psychology and psychiatry, and Stan Stojkovic, dean of the UWM Helen Bader School of Social Welfare.

Davidson, a faculty member in the College of Letters and Science Department of Psychology and School of Medicine and Public Health, directs the Center for Creating a Healthy Mind, at the Waisman Center, and has done extensive research regarding the physiological effects of meditation, specifically upon the brain and the emotions. Stojkovic is an expert on prison administration. Moderator Dimitri Topitzes, a UWM assistant professor of social work and board member of the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center, hopes to bring similar meditation retreats to the Wisconsin criminal justice system.
 
The film is also showing in Milwaukee on March 25.

The documentary is set at Donaldson Correctional Facility, an overcrowded prison in Bessemer, Ala. When the program is launched, some in the local Christian community are rankled and prison officials doubt its worth. But against all odds, the prisoners who complete the emotionally and physically demanding 10-day silent meditation course begin to change.

Parking is available in Lot 82, just north of the Waisman Center, after 6pm. Also, the free Madison Metro campus bus, route 80, stops at the corner of Marsh Drive and Highland Avenue, a half-block from the Waisman Center.

Date Published: 04/30/2009

News tag(s):  integrative

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