Sunday, July 10, 2011

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.

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