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Doing Time Doing Vipassana

About The Film

Two women filmmakers from Israel, Ayelet Menahemi and Eilona Ariel, initiated this independent project. In the winter of 1994-95 they spent five months in India, doing intensive research on the use of Vipassana as a rehabilitation method and its dramatic impact on foreign and Indian prisoners.The authorities were unusually cooperative, allowing the team free access to two Indian jails. The documentary begins with the story of Tihar Prison - a huge and notorious institution housing 10,000 inmates, 9,000 of them awaiting trial. When a new Inspector General, Kiran Bedi, was posted there in 1993, Tihar entered period of rapid-fire change.


Bedi had earned a reputation as an energetic but controversial officer in the Indian Police Service. At Tihar she launched a series of reforms improving prison conditions.But she wanted to achieve a deeper transformation, and when she came across Vipassana she was convinced that this was the tool she needed. Bedi learned that the technique had been tried before in other Indian jails, with astonishing results. The film briefly tells how Vipassana originated and how it was used in other prisons. A Vipassana course consists of 10 days of intensive practice, during which participants maintain complete silence. The strict requirements of such a course, imposed on a strict prison system, had created major challenges.


When Vipassana courses started in Tihar, results were immediate and dramatic. Many prisoners were deeply affected by the experience, and their attitudes changed drastically. The success led to one of the most extraordinary events to take place in a prison anywhere: in April 1994, at a special facility inside Tihar, one thousand prison inmates participated in an 11-day Vipassana course - the largest ever held in modern times.This led to another unprecedented event: within the precincts of the prison, a meditation center opened, offering regular Vipassana courses to the Tihar inmates. David, an Englishman serving a sentence in Tihar and a Vipassana student, volunteered to work in "the Vipassana Ward." The last part of the film present the inner journey travelled during a Vipassana course, and examines the technique in more detail. 

Why does practising Vipassana have such a marked effect on people's behaviour and attitude? What do they realize and what do they actually do during a course? A few prisoners - Australian, British, African and Indian - tell of their experiences and their newly acquired outlook on life. The film concludes with a moving scene from Baroda Jail, showing the superintendent greeting his charges outside the meditation hall at the end of a Vipassana course.

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