Thursday, July 28, 2011

Irena Sendler - A Great Woman!! (Life In A Jar)


The Holocaust - the systematic annihilation of six million Jews - is a history of enduring horror and sorrow. The charred skeletons, the diabolic experiments, the death camps, the mass graves, the smoke from the chimneys ... In 1933 nine million Jews lived in the 21 countries of Europe that would be occupied by Germany during the war. By 1945 two out of every three European Jews had been killed by the Nazis. 1.5 million children were murdered. This figure includes more than 1.2 million Jewish children, tens of thousands of Gypsy children and thousands of handicapped children.

Yet there were acts of courage and human decency during the Holocaust - stories to bear witness to goodness, love and compassion. This is the story of an incredible woman and her amazing gift to mankind.
Irena Sendler. An unfamiliar name to most people, but this remarkable woman defied the Nazis and saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto. As a health worker, she sneaked the children out between 1942 and 1943 to safe hiding places and found non-Jewish families to adopt them.

For many years Irena Sendler - white-haired, gentle and courageous - was living a modest existence in her Warsaw apartment. This unsung heroine passed away on Monday May 12th, 2008.

Her achievement went largely unnoticed for many years. Then the story was uncovered by four young students at Uniontown High School, in Kansas, who were the winners of the 2000 Kansas state National History Day competition by writing a play Life in a Jar about the heroic actions of Irena Sendler. The girls - Elizabeth Cambers, Megan Stewart, Sabrina Coons and Janice Underwood - have since gained international recognition, along with their teacher, Norman Conard. The presentation, seen in many venues in the United States and popularized by National Public Radio, C-SPAN and CBS, has brought Irena Sendlers story to a wider public.
The students continue their prize-winning dramatic presentation Life in a Jar.

Irena Sendler
Irena Sendler was born in 1910 in Otwock, a town some 15 miles southeast of Warsaw. She was greatly influenced by her father who was one of the first Polish Socialists. As a doctor his patients were mostly poor Jews. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and the brutality of the Nazis accelerated with murder, violence and terror. At the time, Irena was a Senior Administrator in the Warsaw Social Welfare Department, which operated the canteens in every district of the city. Previously, the canteens provided meals, financial aid, and other services for orphans, the elderly, the poor and the destitute. Now, through Irena, the canteens also provided clothing, medicine and money for the Jews. They were registered under fictitious Christian names, and to prevent inspections, the Jewish families were reported as being afflicted with such highly infectious diseases as typhus and tuberculosis.

But in 1942, the Nazis herded hundreds of thousands of Jews into a 16-block area that came to be known as the Warsaw Ghetto. The Ghetto was sealed and the Jewish families ended up behind its walls, only to await certain death.
Irena Sendler was so appalled by the conditions that she joined Zegota, the Council for Aid to Jews, organized by the Polish underground resistance movement, as one of its first recruits and directed the efforts to rescue Jewish children.

To be able to enter the Ghetto legally, Irena managed to be issued a pass from Warsaws Epidemic Control Department and she visited the Ghetto daily, reestablished contacts and brought food, medicines and clothing. But 5,000 people were dying a month from starvation and disease in the Ghetto, and she decided to help the Jewish children to get out.
For Irena Sendler, a young mother herself, persuading parents to part with their children was in itself a horrendous task. Finding families willing to shelter the children, and thereby willing to risk their life if the Nazis ever found out, was also not easy.

Irena Sendler, who wore a star armband as a sign of her solidarity to Jews, began smuggling children out in an ambulance. She recruited at least one person from each of the ten centers of the Social Welfare Department.
With their help, she issued hundreds of false documents with forged signatures. Irena Sendler successfully smuggled almost 2,500 Jewish children to safety and gave them temporary new identities.

Some children were taken out in gunnysacks or body bags. Some were buried inside loads of goods. A mechanic took a baby out in his toolbox. Some kids were carried out in potato sacks, others were placed in coffins, some entered a church in the Ghetto which had two entrances. One entrance opened into the Ghetto, the other opened into the Aryan side of Warsaw. They entered the church as Jews and exited as Christians. "`Can you guarantee they will live?'" Irena later recalled the distraught parents asking. But she could only guarantee they would die if they stayed. "In my dreams," she said, "I still hear the cries when they left their parents."

Irena Sendler accomplished her incredible deeds with the active assistance of the church. "I sent most of the children to religious establishments," she recalled. "I knew I could count on the Sisters." Irena also had a remarkable record of cooperation when placing the youngsters: "No one ever refused to take a child from me," she said.
The children were given false identities and placed in homes, orphanages and convents. Irena Sendler carefully noted, in coded form, the childrens original names and their new identities. She kept the only record of their true identities in jars buried beneath an apple tree in a neighbor's back yard, across the street from German barracks, hoping she could someday dig up the jars, locate the children and inform them of their past.

In all, the jars contained the names of 2,500 children ...

But the Nazis became aware of Irena's activities, and on October 20, 1943 she was arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo, who broke her feet and legs. Pawiak Prison, but no one could break her spirit. Though she was the only one who knew the names and addresses of the families sheltering the Jewish children, she withstood the torture, that crippled her for life, refusing to betray either her associates or any of the Jewish children in hiding. Sentenced to death, Irena was saved at the last minute when Zegota members bribed one of the Gestapo agents to halt the execution. She escaped from prison but for the rest of the war she was pursued by the Nazis.

After the war she dug up the jars and used the notes to track down the 2,500 children she placed with adoptive families and to reunite them with relatives scattered across Europe. But most lost their families during the Holocaust in Nazi death camps.
The children had known her only by her code name Jolanta. But years later, after she was honored for her wartime work, her picture appeared in a newspaper. "A man, a painter, telephoned me," said Sendler, "`I remember your face,' he said. `It was you who took me out of the ghetto.' I had many calls like that!"

Irena Sendler did not think of herself as a hero. She claimed no credit for her actions. "I could have done more," she said. "This regret will follow me to my death."
She has been honored by international Jewish organizations - in 1965 she accorded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem organization in Jerusalem and in 1991 she was made an honorary citizen of Israel. Irena Sendler was awarded Poland's highest distinction, the Order of White Eagle, in Warsaw Monday Nov. 10, 2003, and she was announced as the 2003 winner of the Jan Karski award for Valor and Courage. She has officially been designated a national hero in Poland and schools are named in her honor. Annual Irena Sendler days are celebrated throughout Europe and the United States.

In 2007, she was nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. At a special session in Poland's upper house of Parliament, President Lech Kaczynski announced the unanimous resolution to honor Irena Sendler for rescuing "the most defenseless victims of the Nazi ideology: the Jewish children." He referred to her as a "great heroine who can be justly named for the Nobel Peace Prize. She deserves great respect from our whole nation."

During the ceremony Elzbieta Ficowska, who was just six months old when she was saved by Irena Sendler, read out a letter on her behalf: “Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory,” Irena Sendler said in the letter, “Over a half-century has passed since the hell of the Holocaust, but its spectre still hangs over the world and doesn’t allow us to forget.”

Irena Sendler
This lovely, courageous woman was one of the most dedicated and active workers in aiding Jews during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Her courage enabled not only the survival of 2,500 Jewish children but also of the generations of their descendants.

The Nobel Prize recipient, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, has dedicated his life to ensuring that none of us forget what happened to the Jews. He wrote:
"In those times there was darkness everywhere. In heaven and on earth, all the gates of compassion seemed to have been closed. The killer killed and the Jews died and the outside world adopted an attitude either of complicity or of indifference. Only a few had the courage to care ..."
 - Louis B├╝low


Monday, July 11, 2011

Final Letter: Facing Death

Last letter from death row: Facing death
MONDAY, JULY 11, 2011

Yong Vui Kong
Sabahan Yong Vui Kong, 23, is on death row in Singapore 
for drug trafficking. Malaysiakini is publishing Yong's final 
letters to Yetian, a member of the Save Vui Kong Campaign, 
as he faces death.

"Before I begin, I would like to thank everyone for reading 
this 12th letter. Time passes so quickly that this will be 
my last letter.

I hope that when you finished reading this letter, despite 
whatever that is going to happen to me, you will continue
to support 'We Believe in Second Chances' campaign.

For my final letter, I would like to write about how I feel 
about facing death.

Firstly, I feel that the existence of the death penalty is not for the sake of retribution, 
but rather a way to allow the offender to understand, and fully confront, the mistake 
he has committed.

Take me as example, I am actually grateful that I was caught because 
it allowed me to understand the true meaning and purpose of life, and it 
has allowed me to find strength within myself. I remembered I once 
mentioned about the "me" before I was caught - a person who has never 
truly lived before.

A few days ago, my lawyer, M Ravi, came to visit me. He told me that 
he would send my final appeal to the Singapore's president in a few days. 
That will be my last chance.

On the night before the execution is carried out, many death-row inmates 
will have no opportunity to say goodbye to their families. For most of them, 
they are in no mood to think of anything else other than feeling hurt and 
pain before their final sentence.

For most of these death-row inmates, the moment they are brought out of 
their cell, they will lose control their emotions and they will start to 
break down. No amount of counselling will be able to pacify them because 
once they step out of their cell, they know there is no coming back and they 
will be gone forever.

But those who feel the most pain are their families. I do not dare to imagine 
how they would feel as they wait outside to collect the cold and lifeless body 
of their love ones.

If tomorrow is my last night

For me, if tomorrow is my last night, I too will have no choice. But I am ready 
to face the fact. After all, I was the one who made a mistake, and I have repented.

Would I be frightened? I really don't know. But I think I may not be 
because I am beginning to be familiar with how it feels to face death - don't 
forget that in this short 4 years, I have brushed death many times.

Indeed, I have "died" a few times before. In 2007, when I was caught, and 
discovering Buddhism has allowed me to be "reborned". In 2009, when I was 
sentenced to death, and my lawyer helped me to appeal against my sentence.

I will not request for my last dinner to be anything sumptuous. I think I will 
follow my regular routine of waking up in the morning to chant my Buddhist 
scripts and meditate, followed by my vegetarian breakfast until night falls, put 
on the best clothes which my sister has bought for me, say goodbye to the 
rest of the inmates, and finally kowtow to the Goddess to show my appreciation 
and thanks.

But I cannot truly express my feelings as I really don't know how I will feel 
as I walk towards the noose. I guess no one will really know.

My greatest fortune

I have been through stages where I felt lost, ignorant and was suffering but 
because of my practice of Buddhism, it has allowed me to free myself.

I am also grateful that many members of public are willing to forgive me. Being 
able to live until today is my greatest fortune.

I think my family has already accepted me for what I did, and also accepted 
whatever outcome it may be. They take comfort in the fact that I have turned 
over a new leaf, and that I have continued reading and practicing Buddhism.

My ordeal has also improved the relationship among those in my family, especially 
my siblings. But I still worry sometimes that my mother will come to know that 
I am no longer around.

I would like to thank all of you once again. I will not be able to share my story without 
your help. I shall pray for you, and wish you good health and happiness.


July 10, 2011

YONG VUI KONG, a Sabahan, was sentenced in November 2009 to death for drug trafficking. He was 19. 
On April 4, Yong lost his final appeal against a mandatory death sentence. He will be executed soon 
unless he is granted clemency by Singapore's president.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Contemplating life in the shadow of death

Contemplating life in the shadow of death
Apr 28, 11 9:05am

'We hope your message will reach the hearts of those who want punitive measures but do not know what it means.'

Letter from death row: Me and my life

Flabbergasted: We have had mandatory sentencing for drug trafficking in Singapore and Malaysia for decades. It is academic to debate how it has reduced what might otherwise have been a much larger problem with drug abuse or the sorry tales of individuals caught. Instead, very useful study could be made of the individual profile and role in the criminal organisation of those who are caught and hanged.

But I do not see public disclosure that these studies are undertaken in determining policy effectiveness. The true test of whether our drug laws are working is whether they are netting the individuals behind the mules and the real criminal organisations in the background. If they have not, then our deterrent effort is not well-directed, because the real criminals will not be deterred by the demise of their mules.

If we understand this problem, it will not weaken the position of the authorities if judiciary is allowed flexibility in sentencing, instead of mandatory death.

I am only a little less sorry for judges who preside over cases such as this, even if this issue does not trouble them. As a person, as an individual, all is sublimated. The only law is the letter of the law, when that is all the discretionary authority you are allowed. Judges in these cases can immerse themselves in the honourability of duty done, or the detachment of a lack of choice in sentencing.

However you look at it, the compassion and discretion which should complement the writ of law is absent. How many now have accepted atrocities have been committed by Germans and many other nations in the same name, of performing one's duty, or following orders.

Of course, the comparison is not relevant, but the principle is. The judiciary must be allowed some degree of discretion in sentencing, otherwise, without compassion, justice can become separated from law and we might as well install an encyclopaedic legal robot in court.

Baronhawk: Nothing like the taste of death to bring the tales of life to fore the gory jolly hangman's truth that seeks us all by far but to be plucked young way before time. Tis' a cruel injustice brought upon by crueler jest the poverty adled livelihood that plague our youth Whither, whether, whatever though the fact is drugs do hurt.

Petestop: Not that I agree that a person's life is for another human to take. However, I wonder, if it is not for the death sentence, would this youngster's life be turned around? In our country, the mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking is well-publicised, as well as in Singapore. In fact, if you take the plane to Singapore, they will broadcast the announcement about the mandatory death sentence.

Therefore, the continued ignorance or the choice to ignore this is just utter stupidity, and people pay dearly for it with their life. I see at airports like in San Francisco, they have a bin for you to dispose of drugs before you pass immigration and subject to the laws of that country. A lot more education towards preventing people facing this mandatory sentence still needs to be done.

Sshhh: Drug trafficking is worst than a single murder case. It helps to kill millions human being. What will happen if all drug traffickers wrote such letters? Should all of them be pardon for the crime? Then drug dealers will move freely to sell drugs to our kids. This is a lesson for all of us to teach our children not to get involved with crime.

Thuey: Too bad that only when facing the end, one turns to religion in hope for salvation. He should have realised that life is precious not only to oneself, but to everyone. One can see the indirect killings of lives by drug trafficking.

The lives that are sacrificed, from policemen, soldiers, to the normal civilians who give their lives to save others by fighting crimes, protecting the innocent or the weak - they forfeit their lives with no regrets and we hold them in the highest honour and respect. Life is no less precious to them than everyone else.

If the death penalty is not workable solution for criminals, I see it as an insult to the heroes who have given their lives. If one is truly sorry, be brave and face the death like the fallen heroes, for your death will help others to live - by reminding other criminals to change and repent before it is too late. Sacrifice is a virtue too.

We can live: Vui Kong, the candles are burning strongly in Singapore and Malaysia. Even in Malaysia, the death penalty is still in force and we hope your message will reach the hearts of those who want punitive measures but do not know what it means.

Yes, crime does not pay, but punishment hardly reforms as well. There's always going to be drug trafficking in Malaysia and Singapore and there's always people dupe into drug trafficking. Will a statistic like Yong Vui Kong ever make a difference in deterring drug trafficking or will it gain scrutiny from NGOs and the international community?

Only governments will know. The only message here I see is to appease the proponents of capital punishment and politicians who are seen as tough on crime. But are they appeased?

MSGboy: Let's be realistic - there is no way the Singapore president will order clemency as it will set a dangerous precedence for others. Better late than never to realise one's mistakes in life, but such is life that punishment needs to be bestowed on you. Make the most of your remaining time.

Let the world know through your letters your thoughts and that great strength is needed to overcome any trials and tribulations that is thrown to you. Keep your head held high and God be with you.

Bruce: Yong's letter is beautiful and touching. I hope Singapore can give a young man who made a slip a second chance, give him life imprisonment. This person can turn out to be an excellent ambassador to turn youth away from drugs in our hate-filled world. He could be going around preaching love around the world, if allowed to live. I hope he is spared. Twenty-years in prison would be good enough.

One Hand Cover the Sky: It is indeed very sad to read about Vui Kong's predicament. As a born-again Buddhist, he seems to accept that all this is due to his bad karma in this life. He cannot escape from his own karma. I pray that his karma will change for the better and hope for a miracle to happen.

But Vui Kong, whatever the outcome of your appeals, just accept it calmly in your heart. As the Chinese saying goes, "Eighteen years later, you be a good man again."

Anonymous_400d: Vui Kong, don't give up. We all pray for the Singapore president's clemency to be granted to you. Everyone makes mistakes in their lives without exception - some big, some small.

No matter how big the mistake is, I believe no one has the right to take away the life of another except God almighty. Our law does not even allow euthanasia or suicide when the person decides he does not want to live on anymore.

In cases of serious offences like drug trafficking, murder, etc, where the law provides for mandatory death sentence, I suggest instead, they should be sentenced to life imprisonment and given a second chance in life.

Loyal Malaysian: Your letter come across as composed and calm. I supposed that's attitude to take - the matter of clemency is out of your ability to influence. I will pray that the President of Singapore shall grant you clemency - perhaps commute it to life imprisonment.

You have indicated your willingness to stay in prison and continue some dhamma work there. Perhaps that will be option agreeable to the Singapore authorities as it means you will still be paying penance for the mistake you made.

Let Vui Kong live, he deserves a second chance

Let Vui Kong live, he deserves a second chance
Apr 23, 11 8:40am

'It is sad that young drug mules are the ones hanged, when not even one of those drug lords has ever been caught.'

A letter from death row

Zz2XX: Prison is all about reform and I don't how executing someone will reform anyone. Yong Vui Kong, and before him Van Tuong Nguyen (hanged in 2005), have repented for what they have done.

Sadly Vui Kong will be hanged even though he has reformed. We are now living in 2011 and not 1511, I cannot understand why the death sentence is still being used. Throughout human history has the death sentence solve/reduce any crime?

Vui Kong was a teenager when he committed his offence so he truly deserve to be given a chance to live. Let him spend his life behind bars for what he did.

It is sad that young drug mules are the ones hanged, but not even one of those drug lords who supply them with the drug to traffic has ever been caught and hanged.

DontPlayGod: I know the law says everyone must pay for his crime, but we must also take into account Yong's age and his upbringing, which was an upbringing devoid of parental and societal guidance as he had left home at a young age.

Mr Singapore President, he was young and had no guidance and no love. He should be given another chance as he has truly repented.

Soul: I believe everything happens for a reason. Drug trafficking is wrong and anyone caught deserved to be punished as it destroys lives. But if the person has repent and has chosen an enlightened way of life, what good will it do by condemning him to death? What are we trying to prove here?

If releasing Yong is out of question, hopefully a life sentence of doing community service can be taken into consideration. It will give him the opportunity to guide others who has chosen the wrong path. There are so many people out there who are lost and misguided. I guess that is what is meant to be...

K Raveendran Nair: At the age of 19, Yong definitely knew nothing about the law. While he is facing the death row, his handler is enjoying his life of luxury derived from drug money. He deserve the second chance and people shall rise to say no to death penalty.

Myop101: As much as we want to free this young man who have repented, one must not forget that drug abuse brought death to many people. It is drug mules like Yong Vui Kong that keep the trade going. Unlike Yong who have an avenue to share his story, many drug addicts out there died without having their stories told.

We know he is young and reckless (aren't we all young once) but he will not be the last. The question we should ask ourselves is, when do we let go and treat a person as an adult and be responsible for his actions?

The penalty is harsh but how do the state or the community explain to the parents, siblings, spouses, children, relatives and friends when their loved ones die from drug abuse? It is not a perfect deterrent tool but mandatory death sentence do strike fear in the hearts of many.

I feel really sad when those like Yong has to die for their crimes but there is only so much we can say or do if we look at the other untold stories.

Docs: Sad. Especially when you think that lesser humans have committed hideous crimes, slip through the grasps of the justice system but here we have a person that has the full weight of the justice system placed on him for committing a crime of lesser value.

But then again, life was not meant to be fair. I don't condone the death sentence as my personal belief is that the "no man has the right to take the life of another". For example, if a person murders another person intentionally, he is sentenced to death by the state as punishment for taking one's life.

So who is going to judge the state for taking a life when Yong has not "killed" another?

Loyal Malaysian: The Singapore and Malaysian drug laws are based on the use of power of fear to deter other potential drug pushers. That Yong has lost his final appeal is not a surprise. Let's hope he will be granted clemency.

But it is heart-warming to read the changes in him and how he has internalised the Buddhist teachings he has been exposed to. Yes, we have man-made laws but there are also universal laws that all of us are subject to, whether we believe in them or not.

Ong Guan Sin: I fought back my tears reading this on a Good Friday weekend in Singapore. I imagine Vui Kong himself is not aware that he is in the process of saving more lives by highlighting the very cruelty of death penalty.

We are part of the society which think it is okay to take away life of those who committed to serious crimes, when in this case it vividly highlights that we are killing the vulnerable who are exploited by shadowy masterminds. A death for a death has no place in any modern society. Stop the killing.

Changeagent: Mr Singapore President, please consider the fact that this young man was only 19 when he committed the crime. But by all accounts, he is now wiser and would be very unlikely to re-offend. I am sure the prison wardens would vouch for his changed and reformed character.

Before you say, 'rules are rules', understand that rules are man-made and can always be reversed so long as there is genuine regret and true contrition. As Kuchikoo said, don't play God, lest you be judged yourself.

GO4CHANGE: Death sentence is not cruel when we have put ourselves in the shoes of the victims of the perpetrators. It is just a necessary evil to prevent human evil behaviour. This should serve as a good warning to watch your children from the day they were born until you breathe your last.

Maintain strong ties within the family to keep communication lines open and prevent agony stories like this from happening. May God bless Vui kong for his repented life.

Don'tLeaveName: I am lost of words and have only tears for VK (Vui Kong). To Mr President, please give VK a second chance. He is a role model to other inmates there and he is an asset by guiding other inmates to take the right path. To VK, God is with you all the way. We pray for you.

Geronimo: As adults, we too have many failings in our lives. What's more if you are 19 when you are not wise to the world as yet. At 19, we are subject to peer pressure and when you are caught in a "too old to be young and too young to be old" time space, it puts us in a confused state.

Parents can only do that much bringing up a child, but when that child reaches 19, how much more can the parents control and discipline him? So for this very young man, there was a slip-up in his life, but does it mean he has to pay with his life? It is fine that a law is meant to be followed to the "t", but what about compassion?

If the person is above 21 (adulthood that is), I don't think many people bothered. Perhaps the Singapore government should reconsider that since he was caught with the pending act of destroying lives, why not sentence him to community service for a period of time to re-build the lives of some unfortunates?

Such rehabilitation would be a much better option than the hangman's noose.

Raveen: By embracing forgiveness, you embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Forgiveness doesn't mean that you deny the other person's responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn't minimise or justify the wrong.

You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life. Death penalty only removes forgiveness from our soul.

Mc Farland: I felt so sorry for this young man. I can't help my tears from flowing as I can relate to so many young people who are also misguided these days. Just look at the school gangsterism that is happening around us.

This young man should be given a second chance. He has learnt his lesson well and should do very well to educate other young people. Let's pray for forgiveness all round.

Bhajnik Singh: I do not know what caused this young man to follow the path he had taken but whatever the reason, it is wrong to have done what he did. The law of the land, however harsh, must be respected.

Many offenders repent and search for enlightenment in the confines of their cells. I believe from what I read, he has. To those who have the power to save his life I ask you, "What good will come from his execution as opposed to what good he will do to contribute and rehabilitate the lost souls in your prisons". To forgive is divine.

MyMsia: Dear Mr President, the society at large should share the guilt for what he did. I beg you, Mr President, to show mercy for this child.

Letter 11: Pay It Forward

Letter from death row: Pay it forward
Yong Vui Kong
Jul 4, 11

Sabahan Yong Vui Kong, 21, is on death row in Singapore for drug trafficking. Malaysiakini is publishing Yong's final letters to Yetian, a member of the Save Vui Kong Campaign, in the next few weeks as he faces death.

This morning my brother brought the Buddhist books and amulets that Ely sent from America. I was elated.

Ely is, like me, someone who once had been rebellious. She was confused too and didn't know what her goals in life were, and she almost lost her life because of drugs.

But today Ely is a very positive girl. She said my story changed her outlook on life. She now actively participates in counselling and humanitarian programmes, and hopes to help other lost sheep like herself.

This is a letter she wrote to me, and I was very touched by it:

"You have given me lots of thing in the little time I've known you, but one thing you've given me that I never expected, and not many can do, is Life.

I don't think I ever had one till I heard of you. I only hope I can help get you yours back in return because nothing else is as valuable as your gift to me. I thank you for all that you did.

You have given me guidance and I will use it well and live it through till my very end. You opened my eyes, mind and heart and shown me what living truly is and that life is worth living.

You are my guide and I will pay it forward in your name for eternity. You will not go unheard. Indeed, I would take your place in a heart beat.

Your name is, and will always be, worth something to me. I will not let you down.

Thank you, Vui Kong. I love you.

Sincerely, Ely

I am very grateful and also very happy that my story can change others.

I am glad that I came to know Buddha and my life has changed greatly since then. I never imagined I could change Ely too. And this kind of fated mutual benefit is one of the most precious blessings between people.

From the time I was at Singapore's Queenstown Remand till now, my knowledge has grown. Apart from the opportunities to meditate in my cell, sharing views and feelings with my fellow inmates and wardens are also an important experience for me. We often talk about our views on life and Buddhism.

I often counsel my fellow inmates, the reason we don't have the physical freedom today is due to our choices, decisions, destiny and actions in the past, and now we are facing our self-inflicted fate.

To be happy is a choice

I often tell them to cherish the moment. To be happy is a choice that they can make. Take care of yourself, and also choose to be happy and do good. I also encourage everyone to study Buddhism and study the most difficult philosophies.

Buddha is really wise, he understands and knows all.

If a person's mind and soul does not have something real to rely on, he will have no hope in his present, future and next life, and will not be able to be at peace. Although I am ignorant in many things, I rely on Buddha's teachings and I do not feel that there is any problem that cannot be solved.

vui kong petition and letters 1Wisdom, compassion, morals and culture do not discriminate between race and age; as long as you study hard, you will get results. If you have a good view and principle in life, after a long time it will develop into your own concept, and with a perfect concept, your future will be very bright.

Lastly, I would like to share with you my favourite Buddhist hymn from 'Three Life Karma'.

"If you would like to know what happened in your past life, then look at what are your sufferings are in this present life.

"If you would like to know what are your fate will be in your future life, then look at what you have done in the present life."

YONG VUI KONG, a Sabahan, was sentenced in November 2009 to death for drug trafficking. He was 19. On April 4, Yong lost his final appeal against a mandatory death sentence. He will be executed in three months unless he is granted clemency by Singapore's president.

Letter 10: Drugs And The Law

Letter from death row: Drugs and the law
Yong Vui Kong
Jun 23, 11

Sabahan Yong Vui Kong, 21, is on death row in Singapore for drug trafficking. Malaysiakini is publishing Yong's final letters to Yetian, a member of the Save Vui Kong Campaign, in the next few weeks as he faces death.

Yetian, you once asked me to write about drugs and the death penalty, but I said that I did not have the right to discuss such an issue because I myself have been sentenced to death because of a drug offence. Also, I had not really thought deeply enough about this issue.

Recently, you have asked me to write on the matter again.

Everyone here in prison has been sentenced to death. Most of them are on death row for drug offences. Some of the inmates are old, but most are young. They have all been through their trials and lost their appeals. Some are hoping for clemency from the Singapore's president, others are just waiting for their "time" to come. They all have their own stories to tell.

My brother, Yun Leong, knows another inmate - his name is Chun Yin. I believe the newspapers have reported his case before. Every Monday (family visit day), Yun Leong sees Chun Yin's father at the prison. Once, outside the prison, Chun Yin's father even asked Yun Leong to sign a petition to save Chun Yin's life.

My lawyer, M Ravi, also mentioned his case to me before. His story is like this: after Chun Ying's parents divorced, Chun Yin stayed with his father and helped him run stalls selling clothes and VCDs in the morning and at night markets in the evening.

He got to know a regular customer. This customer convinced him to go overseas and bring gold bars into Singapore. All the arrangements were made by this customer. But it turned out that hidden in the bag were not gold bars, but drugs. Chun Yin did not know that drugs were hidden in the bag until the police ripped open the lining of the bag.

He told the court everything, including the identity of the customer and his phone numbers. But the judge did not believe him. My lawyer told me that the police had not done their best to trace this other man, and the judge did not think that it was important.

Naive and ignorant kid

I am not a lawyer, but I cannot understand why they didn't look for this man. Often it is because of people like him that we are in such a situation. If this man was found, wouldn't we be able to find out if Chun Yin was telling the truth or not? Chun Yin is currently locked inside here, how can he find the truth himself?

I am beginning to wonder whether there are people who have been wronged. Are all the sentences really fair? If a person has been wronged and hanged, isn't it extremely tragic?

I have mentioned my next door inmate in one of my earlier letters. He was hanged. Before he died, we talked about a lot of things. He never mentioned his case, but I feel that he was a very young, naive and ignorant kid. He could not face the fact that he was going to die.

That morning, he was dragged out of his cell at 3am. His cries of fear made my heart ache. I kept chanting Buddhist verses, hoping that his suffering would end.

After that, I told the prison warden that even though I am guilty, so is the person who was responsible in making the arrangements for me to carry drugs. I wanted to stop him from harming more people, so I told the police who this person was.

I don't know what happened next. I heard from my lawyer that he had been detained, but there was no evidence, so he was not charged.

Guilt is presumed

There is still one more thing that I must talk about. About two months ago, there was another inmate. He was older. His appeal was successful and he was released. I asked my lawyer why; isn't it very difficult to win an appeal?

The lawyer told me that the Court of Appeal's decision was like this: this person brought in many different types of drugs, and one of these was heroin. He told the court that he did not know that one of these drugs was heroin.

The court believed him and said that he really didn't know he was carrying heroin, and so he was released. The lawyer even jokingly told me, if only Chun Yin had said that he knew he was carrying drugs, just not that the drug was heroin, he might have had a chance.

My lawyer also took the opportunity to explain to me the law regarding drug offences, saying that as long as drugs are found on you, guilt is presumed. And if you are carrying more than a certain amount, you will be presumed to be trafficking.

I don't fully understand, but I think this is very important. Many people don't know about this, and when they fall on the wrong side of this law, they are sentenced to death.

I find it very strange learning about these cases. How is it that the court can believe this person but not that person; what is the standard and attitude adopted towards drug cases and the death penalty?

My lawyer has tried to explain it to me, but it is too complicated for me and I don't quite understand so I don't dare to talk about it here.

I suppose what I can say is to encourage all to go and understand the law.

YONG VUI KONG, a Sabahan, was sentenced in November 2009 to death for drug trafficking. He was 19. On April 4, Yong lost his final appeal against a mandatory death sentence. He will be executed in three months unless he is granted clemency by Singapore's president.

Letter 9: Education Is Life

Letter from death row: Education is life
Jun 18, 11 10:21am

Sabahan Yong Vui Kong, 21, is on death row in Singapore for drug trafficking. Malaysiakini is publishing Yong's final letters to Yetian, a member of the Save Vui Kong Campaign, in the next few weeks as he faces death.

When I was in Primary 2, I had a classmate named Luo Yan. He once said something that is deeply embedded in my memory.

Young though he was, he said to me, “If you want, you should work to be the best, or you will be the worst!”

He said this because I was unable to get along with many classmates, and there were many misunderstandings among us.

At the time I was immature and misunderstood the meaning of his words. I thought he meant that “you should study to be No 1, otherwise you might as well just be the worst”.

I made the mistake of choosing the latter, thinking that since it was impossible for me to be No 1 in class, I might as well give up on my studies. That decision was my biggest mistake.

From Primary 2 until I ended in jail at 19, I never properly thought about how to live my life, and never thought about whether I should study. After coming to prison, I thought about what Luo Yan said. I grew wiser and that was why I started studying Buddhist philosophy.

An American report has pointed out that a large number of death row inmates have very low levels of education. Usually it is those who are lowly-educated who make major mistakes and thus more likely to be sentenced to death.

I was a rebellious youth who never had a proper education. Because I lacked education and knowledge, I was tricked by others into believing that smuggling drugs would not draw the death penalty, which is why I - in all my ignorance - made mistakes upon mistakes.

Although compared to others I might seem disadvantaged because I never received proper education, but I think that it is never too late to start now.

I do not want to make any more mistakes. Every day I read a lot of books, learning new things like English, and I keep meditating.

One morning I will be executed, but in case I am able to leave this prison alive, the correct outlook on life is what I need to re-start my life. If I can speak English, then I can spread the word about the harm of being involved with drugs to even more people.

How can you not care?

Of course, apart from education in school, guidance from our family is also very important. The future of a child is created by the people at home. If you are too busy at work or too caught up in your life, the chances of your child turning bad is high.

For me, it was because my relatives were all busy and did not have time for me, so I became more and more rebellious.

There is another story that I would like to share.

In ancient India, a death row inmate was suddenly told before his execution that if he could carry a full bowl of water and walk one circle around the palace compound without spilling a single drop, the king would pardon him. The inmate agreed to take up the challenge.

As the news spread, many people gathered around the palace to watch the feat. The path around the palace was uneven, and the inmate had to go up and down many steps. The people shouted, “You'll drop it in three steps! Turn the corner, and the water will spill!”

But the inmate seemed not to hear them, he stared at the bowl of water and walked and walked before returning to his original spot. He had not spilled a single drop.

The crowd was happy, so was the king. He asked the inmate, “How did you manage not to spill a single drop?”

The inmate answered, “I was not carrying water, I was carrying my life!”

I see my education in prison today as a bowl of water. If a person gives up on learning, then he has given up on life. Life is an education, and education is life - these two are closely intertwined. How can you not care?

YONG VUI KONG, a Sabahan, was sentenced in November 2009 to death for drug trafficking. He was 19. On April 4, Yong lost his final appeal against a mandatory death sentence. He will be executed in three months unless he is granted clemency by Singapore's president.

Letter 8: I Like Mondays

Letter from death row: I like Mondays
Jun 10, 11 10:00am

Sabahan Yong Vui Kong, 21, is on death row in Singapore for drug trafficking. Malaysiakini is publishing Yong's final letters to Yetian, a member of the Save Vui Kong Campaign, in the next few weeks as he faces death.

Here is a story I've heard.

There was a young man who was sentenced to jail. For a long time, his family did not visit him. Whenever he saw the families of other inmates who brought food for their love ones, he felt bitter about his parents.

One day, the prison warden told him that someone had come to see him. When he went to the visitors room, he saw his mother - dirty, shoes broken, and her feet full of blisters. With her was an urn filled with ashes.

You see, this young man came from a poor family. His father was a farmer and their home many thousand miles from the prison. In order to save enough money to come to see him, his father worked very hard - so hard that he died as a result.

His father's last wish was to see his son. His mother eventually decided to walk all the way to the prison. And she brought along his father's ashes.

Here, in my prison, Monday is family visit day for death-row inmates.

My family also lives far away from here - in Sabah. Luckily, I have two brothers who work at a hotel in Singapore. Every Monday, they apply for leave so that they can visit me.

I heard from my brother that over the past few years, he often see another visitor - an old woman. She is slow in gait and her hair almost white. She comes to visit someone in prison, perhaps her son.

And my lawyer also told me of a death-row inmate's father, who wakes up at 3am every Monday to ride his motorbike across the Causeway so that he can see his son at dawn.

Thus, we are lucky death-row inmates.

Our last wish?

In fact, when we were consigned to the death row, what really was our wish? Allow me, as a death-row inmate, to tell you.

Our wish is to have the support from our family. This, I have. During the many days when I spend in prison, I have the company of both my brothers - Yun Leong and Yun Zhong. Because of that, our relationship has improved.

It is very difficult for me to express my feeling on how much I look forward to Mondays. To my family, I am very grateful. I must thus utilise my remaining days fruitfully - study hard and be a good man to repay all their gratitude.

But I know a lot of other death-row inmates do not have anyone to come and visit them, other than their lawyers. Even their lawyers only visit them once in a long period of time, especially those who are not Singaporean.

Maybe their family does not know that they are here - all locked-up and about to die. Maybe their situation is like the story of the young man I mentioned earlier. Maybe even if they are dead, their family will never know. I am greatly saddened by this.

So I am the lucky one. I know that my family has given me a lot of support, and they did not give up on me.

My sisters, relatives and friends went to the streets to get signatures from those whom they do not know to plea to the Singaporean president to grant me clemency. They did not ask that I be released from prison, but simply to spare my life so that I will not be hanged.

My younger sister is only 19 years old. She is often afraid to talk to strangers, yet she summons the courage to do it. My brother, whenever he has his break at work, would stand in Orchard Road to petition passer-bys.

I know that it is hard for them. They are often scolded. There are people who chided them, asking why they should help me. They say my brother should be ashamed of me, and that I deserved to die.

Indeed, because of me, my family has suffered. I really don't know what else to say.

Families tormented

Sometimes I think to myself, the families of the other death-row inmates are also suffering. Would it be because of this, they have given up on them to the point where they disown them. Because I am with them too, I can almost feel their pain and torture.

In the eyes of many, those of us who have been locked up must be an evil not worth mentioning. If a death-row inmate does not have the support of his family, friends and the society - couple with the fact that if he does not have a strong faith - then maybe before he is executed, he is already dead in the heart.

A lot of death-row inmates are resigned to the face that they are going to die. They lost their will to live, and their family who pray for them day and night, does not know what else to do. As a result, they slowly give up on them and treat them as if they already dead even before they are hanged.

Yes, a lot are like that.

Maybe it is my faith in the Goddess of Guan Yin, maybe it is the luck I have gathered from the good deeds I did in my previous life, or maybe like what my father said, my life is "tough", I have the opportunity to discover Buddhist teachings. This makes me strong spiritually.

Also I have a good lawyer, and most importantly, I know that there are those out there who petition for clemency for me. I know that they have forgiven me and they care for me.

Life, I have learned, is precious.

YONG VUI KONG, a Sabahan, was sentenced in November 2009 to death for drug trafficking. He was 19. On April 4, Yong lost his final appeal against a mandatory death sentence. He will be executed in three months unless he is granted clemency by Singapore's president.