Project Profile: Documentary--Social Change

Changing from Inside
for the Vipassana Meditation Centers of S.N. Goenka

Vipassana meditation is an ancient and rigorous non-sectarian practice that can bring peace of mind to the practitioner. Meditation centers in North America were interested in bringing this transformative technique into jails and prisons to help relieve suffering and change self-defeating behavior of inmates. The technique is used widely in penal institutions in India to great effect among both inmates and corrections staff. However, despite the apparent benefits, the obstacles to the program's introduction into the corrections environment were considerable. Potential concerns ranged from logistical challenges to prejudicial attitudes toward meditation and association with religious cults. The Vipassana organization needed to present their program in a way that accurately depicted its various aspects and attendant benefits, while addressing the real concerns of corrections professionals.

DDP developed a 42-minute informational video program, Changing from Inside (CFI), targeted to the professional corrections community to answer their practical questions regarding the nature of the meditation program and its implementation in an incarceration setting. Fortunately, one U.S. facility, the North Rehabilitation Facility (NRF) in Seattle, had already adopted the technique as part of its rehabilitation program. DDP focused on the experiences of the staff and inmates of this pioneering institution as they conducted meditation courses there.

The video follows seven women inmates at NRF doing time for theft, drug sales, assault, and prostitution as they undertake the program of ten days of total silence. Under the guidance of both meditation community volunteers and the incarceration facility staff members, the women practice the Vipassana technique for ten hours each day, delving ever deeper into themselves to understand and ultimately master their behavior and compulsions. The women are transformed by their inward journey and come away with the tools to maintain that transformation.

The film also chronicles the personal and professional journey of the articulate and determined facility director, Lucia Meijer, as she rallies her staff to this new and unconventional program. Candid interviews among the prison staff reveal initial doubts, skepticism, and even resistance, as well as formidable obstacles such as physical facility challenges, security concerns, and even the demanding meditation course requirements themselves. In the end, the results prove an inspiration to everyone involved, leaving both the facility and the inmate participants in the program powerfully transformed.

CFI has become a critical tool for prison outreach representatives of Vipassana when approaching prison officials. The video has been shown at corrections conferences and is distributed by the prestigious University of California Extension, Center for Media and Independent Learning. It has also found considerable interest with a general audience because of its illumination of a powerful and transformative technique, and for the hope it offers in treating the persistent social problem of repeat criminal behavior. CFI was recently recognized by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency with a PASS Award. The film is being honored for its important contribution toward raising the public's awareness and understanding of our criminal justice system and toward focusing attention on alternatives for social justice.
View sample video sequence:

Alternatives in Corrections (7.8 MB)

Site Designed and Produced by David Donnenfield Productions.
Copyright © 2000. David Donnenfield Productions. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail the Webmaster