Yong Vui Kong is a death row inmate in Singapore. He was arrested at age 19 with 47.27g of heroin, convicted of trafficking and sentenced under the Mandatory Death Penalty. His final appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on 4 April 2011. He can now only plead for clemency from the President (acting on the advice of the Cabinet).
If the President does not grant clemency to Vui Kong, these will be the last 12 letters he will ever write.
The following is the ninth letter:
The Ninth Letter : The Importance of Education
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.
At the time I was immature and misunderstood the meaning of his words, and thought he meant that “you should study to be #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 #1 in class, I might as well give up on my studies. This decision was the biggest, biggest mistake.
From Primary 2 until I went into jail at 19 years old, I never properly thought about how to live my life, and never thought about whether I should study. After coming in here I thought about what Luo Yan said, my heart grew courageous, I grew wiser, and that was why I started studying Buddhist philosophy!
I have read some statistics, I don’t know if it is right or not. I hope that you can check on it for me.
An American report has pointed out that there are a large number of death row inmates who have very low levels of education. Usually it is those who are lowly-educated who make mistakes and possibly get sentenced to death.
(Note: The report pointed out by Vui Kong is one done by researchers in America. The report pointed out that the death penalty penalises people not by race or origins of birth, but by levels of education. Those with low levels of education are more likely to be sentenced to death.)
I was a rebellious youth who never had proper education, unfamiliar with the sentencing of different offences. Because I lacked education and knowledge, I was tricked by others into believing that smuggling drugs would not attract the death penalty, which is why I in all my ignorance made mistake upon mistake!
Although compared to others I might seem unprivileged because I never received proper education; but I think that it is not too late to start now.
Now, I don’t want to make any more mistakes. Every day I read a lot of books, learning new things like English, and I keep meditating.
Perhaps one morning I will be executed, but in case one day I am able to leave this prison alive, full knowledge and the correct outlook on life is what I hope to achieve. If I can speak English, then I can spread the word about the harm of being involved with drugs to even more people.
Of course, apart from education in school, guidance from the 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 about life that I would like to share.
In ancient India, a death row inmate was suddenly told before execution: if he could carry a full bowl of water and walk a circle around the palace without spilling a single drop, the King would pardon him. The inmate agreed.
After the news spread, many people gathered around the palace to watch. The road around the palace was bumpy and uneven, and he had to go up and down many steps. The people around shouted, “You’ll drop it in 3 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 for a long time before returning to his original spot. He had not spilled a single drop.
The crowd was excited, and the king was also very happy. He asked the inmate, “How did you manage not to spill a single drop?”
The inmate answered, “I was not carrying water, this is my life!”
Now, I see my studies as a bowl of water. If a person gives up on learning, then it is like he has given up on life. Life is an education, and education is a sort of life; these two are closely intertwined, how can you not care?