Amos Yee

What Prison teaches about Working with Limitations

I want to talk about the profound insights you receive from trying to thrive within the limitations of Prison. Far from being constrained, you can actually develop abilities that you otherwise wouldn't have if you didn't have those restrictions.

Obviously because you're stuck in Prison you're often stuck with just the activities available in Prison. And so I was introduced to chess, spades, weightlifting, and watching American sports on TV like Football, Basketball and Tennis. These activities that I never thought I'd like ended up adding so much to my life.

I began appreciating more the Buddhist concept of the "interrelatedness of everything", and how something like chess and watching Football, activities that initially seem irrelevant to my path of political activism, eventually equip me with skills that turn out to be vital. Skills like being calm under pressure, not freaking out if plans change because plans always change, the importance of being consistent over being impressive...

Of course playing chess and watching football would not have been my first option of stuff to do if I was outside. But unlike the projects you do in an authoritarian school or workforce (read this post for more on that), the things you do in Prison are not uninteresting and unnecessary to your life. And even if I had not gone to Prison, I feel I would have eventually done these activities at some point in my life.

I never feel like I'm wasting my time. In fact as I look back at how being sent to Prison radically changed the type of life I led, I realized the path I ended up on was as valuable if not more so, than if I had stuck to the path I had planned for outside. To paraphrase the Hunter x Hunter author Togashi, "enjoy all the little tangents in your life, because there is where you'll find what you value the most!"

And even if you're not in Prison; knowing how to work with restrictions is important. Because we're always faced with limits, whether in the resources we have, the people available to help, or our skill level. Ever met someone who keeps saying they need more people or more knowledge before they're ready to make videos and end up never making videos? Ever met someone with hardly any writing experience, who immediately tries to write a 300-page book, he writes for 6 months, eventually realizes what he wrote was terrible, and eventually gives up writing entirely?

The resourcefulness you cultivate from working with limitations actually enhances creativity. On the other hand, having too many options available creates a psychological phenomenon known as the "paradox of choice", where the voluminous number of options and decisions to make could cause you to be overwhelmed to the point of depression. Nothing like Prison to strip you away from everything, so you can gain everything.