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By Phil Hall | July 5, 2005

“Doing Time, Doing Vipassana” was made in 1997, but is only now getting a U.S. theatrical release. This fascinating hour-long documentary focuses on a strange but successful experiment: introducing an ancient form of Buddhist meditation at Tihar Prison, one of India’s roughest correctional facilities. The 10-day meditation sessions requires total silence and the courage to explore one’s inner conflicts. The results, as detailed here, were dramatic: the tensions brought on by overcrowding and inmate violence went into rapid decline.

The force behind the experiment was Kiran Bedi, an inspector general of prisons who is notable for breaking cultural taboos in India (not the least being the most visible woman in India’s law enforcement services). Bedi is a remarkable and charismatic figure and it’s a shame too much of the film is devoted to some of the more unusual convicts under her custody (including miscreant visitors from England, Australia and Somalia) rather than to learning more about her progressive approach to penal reform.

Based on the success of the Indian program, experiments in bringing Vipassana were reportedly held in American prisons. One wishes this film was expanded to give a full update on how the American version progressed. Even without the update, the film is compelling and memorable.

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