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Home / For Educators / Films and Lesson Plans / The Dhamma Brothers


The Film – The Dhamma Brothers: East Meets West in the Deep South

Situated in the Alabama countryside southwest of Birmingham, the Donaldson Correctional Facility holds 1,500 men, considered the state’s most dangerous prisoners. Within this dark environment, a growing network of men gather to meditate on a regular basis.

Intrigued by this, Jenny Phillips, cultural anthropologist and psychotherapist, visited the prison to observe the meditation classes and to interview the inmate meditators about their lives as prisoners.

As she met with the men, Jenny was drawn in by their openness and willingness to talk freely about themselves. Even though many of these men will never be released from prison, they are thirsty for meaningful social and emotional change. They separate themselves from the world they have known, the prison population, and withdraw to a place apart, where they undergo the rigorous challenges of ten days” Vipassana meditation and interior struggle.

The course is rigorous, difficult, and even painful; one inmate, Grady Bankhead, says it was harder than being on death row.  Considered worse than worthless by their society, these men undertake a radical inner journey which transforms their self-image, gives them power over their impulses, and enables them to give back to the narrow community in which they must spend their remaining years.

In short, they become The Dhamma Brothers.

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The Curriculum Guide

The curriculum guide frames The Dhamma Brothers film in a way that allows students to grapple with the themes and ideas presented in an interactive way.

The lessons encourage critical thinking and deep discourse, inspiring students to ponder the complex issues surrounding the US prison system. Lessons cover a broad range of subjects, including theology, stress management, philosophy, sociology, social justice, life skills, genocide studies, psychology and education.

The curriculum guide is organized in a way that allows the film to be incorporated into multiple settings in addition to High School and University classes. For example, it has been used in prison theological certificate classes, discussions of the American Penal Code, Community College courses on world religions, library screenings, and a 120-day treatment program for high risk youth.

Lesson Plans

  1. Getting to Know the Dhamma Brothers | Film Literacy
  2. Prison Writing | Literature
  3. Meditation and the Human Brain | Psychology, Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, Neurology
  4. Introduction to Buddhism and Meditation | Psychology; History; Religious Studies
  5. American Prisons Today: A Statistical Study | Social Studies; Criminal Justice; Sociology
  6.  Racial Disparities in Representation and Sentencing
  7.  Rehabilitation Programs in Correctional Facilities
  8.  Beginning Meditation | An Experiential Lesson

Additional Themes explored in this guide are:

  • The power of meditation
  • The hero’s journey archetype
  • Prison stereotypes
  • An introduction to Buddhism
  • The U.S. prison system
  • Prison reform
  • Disparities in sentencing
  • Mindfulness

Authors: Marybeth Duckett, Stacey Gibson, Dr. Jim Hopper, Bengt Johnson, Eileen Mattingly, Dr. Jenny Phillips.