Amos Yee

Why Prison is Better than School and Work

What? What?!! Really, this statement should not be controversial.

Everyone's argument is this: outside of Prison you have the freedom to do whatever you want, in Prison you don't.

But are either of those things true?

To illustrate my point, let's first take a look at the lifestyle of a curious group of people: Monks.

Monks are often homeless, they beg for food on the streets, sleep on the floors with no sheets, they spend most of their day just sitting in one spot praying and meditating. A Monk may have more restrictions than a Prisoner. Yet, they willingly choose this lifestyle and claim it brings them the most freedom and happiness. How is that possible?

Of course not everyone should be monks, but their lifestyle reveals an important teaching central to all the world's major religions: true happiness and freedom comes not from external, material things like how much money you have, how many things you can do, your results in school or at work, or even the family and friends around you. Sure those things could help, but what really matters is how you are inside. There are rich people with all the "freedom" to do anything, that are depressed. Yet there are homeless people and prisoners who are always happy.

Though it's possible to be free and happy in Prison (unless you're constantly being physically tortured, which in most prisons in the world doesn't happen), it's virtually impossible if you're doing school or work.

Now let's be clear, I'm only saying school and work is worse than Prison if that school and work sucks (which for most people it does). Let's first talk about school...

If you're part of a democratic school, which is essentially a place with teachers, that you can go in and out whenever you want, and you can therefore learn whatever you want, learn with whoever you want to, have the teacher fired if most students dislike them... That's obviously better than Prison.

But of course, most schools in the world aren't like that. They have an authoritarian structure which has a set curriculum of subjects they want every student to learn, and what happens is students are forced to learn subjects that aren't interesting or useful to their lives. It's disturbing the idea that if the entire class hates the teacher, the teacher will get fired, is something people have never heard of, like it's some kind of revolutionary concept. Instead, you're more likely if you question a teacher's ability, to get expelled.

And you might argue: ok the whole "you can't learn what you want", that's just in high school. In college you can pick whatever subject you want and freely choose what you want to learn.

Hah! Even if you pick a subject you like, you're not necessarily learning the topics within the subject that you want, because every subject has a standardized curriculum of topics that all students are required to do. So you have film students who want to be action and sci-fi directors, having to analyse classic dramas like Citizen Kane and Casablanca, a philosophy student interested in the Enlightenment who is forced to learn Plato, a left-wing student having to decrypt Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations"... So must of the time you're studying information that is neither interesting nor useful to your life.

So you spend 50 % of your day, 5 days a week (maybe more) cramming useless knowledge, thinking that a university degree will increase your chances of getting a job (especially nowadays, it doesn't). And you might even have to spend over a hundred thousand dollars on your 4-year education and be in debt for more than 20 years?! There's a reason why mental illness is rampant among school students, rather than cultivating each individual's unique abilities, school numbs you with rapid information under the impression that you're making progress.

And now we get to "Work". Once again, if you have a job that gives you the freedom to choose the projects you want and who you work with, that's better than Prison. Unfortunately, most people don't have that, and are instead stuck with a 8-12 hour-a-day job with a boss that can't ever be replaced even if most employees feel exploited.

A simple question to ask yourself to determine if you're happy in your job is: If I had all the money in the world, would I still do this? For most people if they're being honest with themselves, they shouldn't hide from the answer. That's why you see someone who wants to be an entrepreneur, driving a taxi. Or someone who wants to be a writer, cleaning tables at a fast food place. (There's nothing wrong with any of those jobs if that's what you really want to do, but it isn't.)

And especially if you made bad long-term decisions like being in college debt or having a mortgage for buying a house, you can't do something "risky" like be an artist or start a business where there might be months or years where you're not earning anything, otherwise you'll miss a monthly payment and accumulate interest. So from the time you start middle school until you pay off your college debt and house, you have been enslaved for 40 years!

In Prison, unless you are doing the school or work offered inside the Prison, you can do whatever the fuck you want.

In American Prison you can watch TV, play chess, play cards, talk to 80 other Prison inmates, read, write, go to religious programs, buy and sell items, gamble on sports, lift weights, cook, clean, meditate, there is so much to do!

In Singapore Prison it's much more limited because you're basically just stuck in a cell with 2 other cellmates 24/7 and nothing else. I was there for about 4 months and even that I found surprisingly manageable. In a situation where you lack activity, your mind adapts, you'll think about things you never had, dig out memories you forgot existed, develop a mindfulness and calm within you. It's actually a rather profound experience.

Most Prisoners would disagree with me and say that Prison sucks and they're eager to go back out so they can go partying, be with their family, have sex with girls, eat whatever they want etc. Completely forgetting that most of their life isnot that, but instead you're spending 8 to 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, working a mundane job just so you can pay the bills, and after work you fel so tired that you just go to sleep or stare in space or watch bad TV. You really only experience a day or two of freedom outside of Prison. Yet in Prison, every day can be free.

And why most Prisoners don't feel that way is because they constantly tell themselves how bad Prison is, how muchless they have, how much they want to get out... Your mind creates your reality. If you think you won't enjoy Prison, you won't. If you instead try to make the best of a bad situation, you could find out that you can have more freedom of choice than most people outside, and that Prison can be a great place for self-improvement and self-development.

Of course the best scenario for everyone would be one outside of Prison where you are not aprt of any authoritarian school or workforce. Where you are working and learning not because of money or what's accepted in society. Where you are free from the fear of risk and criticism, doing a project that unlocks your full potential. That is the path God wants everyone to take. Your life outside should never be worse than a life in Prison. My life in Prison should never be better than anyone's life outside. Yet after 5 years of being locked up I never felt Prison to be that bad, because the 10 years I spent in Primary and Secondary School in Singapore made me feel less in control, far more isolated, far more imprisoned, than actual Prison ever did.