The inmates of Donaldson Correctional Facility’s capacity for redemption is made most apparent when voiceovers of the prisoners recounting their crimes are paired with pictures of them as infants, or images of their mothers. The message isn’t hard to grasp throughout the less obvious scenes, though. After finishing an intensive meditation therapy program, the inmates speak about accepting responsibility for their past actions and feeling a sense of accomplishment for the first time in their lives. The duplicity of the surrounding Bible-Belt community isn’t lost on anyone either. Interviewees from the small Alabama town near Donaldson spew unforgiving hostility about the inmates and mock the Vipassana meditation program instated as a behavioral and psychological therapy for them.
The murderers and gang leaders at Donaldson are beacons of insight, sympathy and generosity, and the community members seem almost vicious when they doubt the sincerity of the prisoners’ redemption. The Vipassana program, a silent, ten-day meditation, produces obvious benefits for the “Dhamma Brothers,” but is in jeopardy because of a misguided view that its eastern roots threaten the Christian ideals held by the people of West Jefferson (a large-haired woman in front of a strip mall asserts, “I don’t believe in Buddhism. Or any kind witchcraft. I’m a Christian.”) Though it limits its view of the prisoners to hardened criminals with hearts of gold and the surrounding community to clamoring Bible-beaters, The Dhamma Brothers succeeds in exposing the humanity of the inmates and the cultural conflicts that the effective but foreign Vipassana program aroused.