THE TEN THOUSAND HOUR PRISON OF THE MIND by Zach Smith

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March 10, 2016 by RJ

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It was unprecedented, the way that a tiny African country no one had ever heard of, rose to such worldly prominence. To anyone perusing lists of the greatest in the world, they would find The Gambodiana to have a disproportionate representation on those lists: virtuosos of many musical instruments, chess grandmasters, artists, Olympic medalists, and more. Sure it may not be surprising to see the United States, Germany, or France dominating in fields like these, but they have significantly sized populations, and being part of the first world, many of their citizens have the luxury of time, which is the essential ingredient to success.

Before Ramsey Ogobogo took over, there was only one native African chess grandmaster and he from the country of Zambia. The field of classical music had been an old boys club for centuries, from Bach to Babbitt. The tiny nation of The Gambodiana went from not even attending a single Olympic games, to dominating most events, bringing home dozens of medals at the first games they attended. There was a tremendous applause when Jacob Gbewonyo won the silver in the Hammer Throw, an early event that summer. The announcers explained it was the first medal ever won by The Gambodiana, little did they know it was only one of 67 medals they would bring home that year alone. In the same games their decathlete achieved the highest score in Olympic history. Understandably however, due to the tropical climate of the country they have yet to enter the winter Olympics.

The great but feared president Ramsey Ogobogo generally receives the credit for the recent achievements of his tiny country. The story of the success of The Gambodiana starts and ends with him.

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Ogobogo was born into an affluent family. At that time the governmental structure of the country would best be understood as a typical kingdom. Though the specific terms and titles they used were different, the structure was essentially the same. The Ogobogo family was a very powerful family, not necessarily the royal family, but desperately needed by the royals in order for them to stay in power. When Ogobogo was a child he was sent to the best boarding schools in the world. It was here at these boarding schools that he developed his taste for intellectual stimulants: his love of classical music, art, reading, chess, and other popular hobbies of the high intelligent. When he would come home during the summer and winter brakes, he found that his country, and to a lesser extent his continent was greatly lacking in all these fields.

When he was in college in America, he was no longer able to go home. His little country was in turmoil, the old royalist-esq regime was thrown out by a coup-de-tat, which installed a military dictator. General Nkrumah didn’t last very long however, he died in office, weather by natural or pre-natural causes remains unknown. Soon the warring factions came together to form a little democracy, which quickly shifted from a true representative democracy to an oligarchy disguised as a Democracy. The old families that supported the royal house, became political parties, deciding amongst themselves which family deserved to be in power for the next term. Elections were held, and somehow the family that was chosen amongst the elite won the election with a very significant majority.

By this time it was safe for Ogobogo to return to his homeland, and with his extensive education, and his family connections, he ran for president shortly after he returned, and won. The trans-familial agreements seemed to disappear, and just about every one in the country decided that Ogobogo should remain president, longer then the countries young constitution would allow. In his campaign he promised to be a leader among equals, the head of a state ran not by him but by the people, he promised not to be a despot like so many of the neighboring countries had to deal with. Unfortunately like most politicians he made promises he could not deliver, and he quickly turned into a dictator, but an arguably benevolent one.

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While in office, Ogobogo became obsessed with an unusual scientific anomaly, a phenomenon known as the ten thousand hour rule. The rule essential states that, in order to achieve “greatness” or “superiority” at any skill, one needs ten thousand hours of dedicated study at that specific skill. Ogobogo thought this might be the key to his nation’s success in the near future. He wanted to conduct an experiment to see how well the rule worked, with a few variations.

His idea, was to take people, and have then practice for ten thousand hours at whatever he, the president, wanted them to practice. He would take them unwillingly, and this was key to the experiment. The rule clearly states that before the ten thousand hours, the practitioner needs to have some natural talent, not a lot, but some, then add ten thousand hours of practice and that’s when they become “great.” Ogobogo was interested in seeing if it would work on anyone, so instead of hunting down students that showed some potential in a given subject or activity; he wanted his choices to be purely random.

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The first part, finding the unwilling subjects, was not hard. Criminals were a preferable subject for the experiment, as they were not hard to come across in this or any other dictatorship. An opportunity soon came.

Students in The Gambodiana were all required to ware school uniforms. The uniforms were made of a heavy wool, not quite the dress kids should ware in a tropical climate, especially when most of the schools did not have air conditioning. Aside from that the uniforms were expensive, only one company made them, and that happened to be a company owned by one of Ogobogo’s relatives. The one thing that seemed to really upset the students was that all the uniforms boar the image of president Ogobogo on them. For all these reasons the kids were quite unhappy with the required dress, and they organized a civilized but disobedient protest, which eventually broke down into a less civilized and more disobedient protest. When Ogobogo’s limousine arrived at the rally, one of the students threw a rock at it. The army was brought in and the entire rally was arrested, everyone was held in a small cell that did not accommodate the group well. By the time Ogobogo got to the jail some of the students had already been beaten to death by their captures, and others died as a result of the conditions, having confined so many to so small a cell. One of the turnkeys asked Ogobogo if he would like to take personal vengeance on some of the students for their act of terrorism, and he was given an ivory cane.

Ogobogo held the cane, and one of the rebellious students was brought before him, held by two guards, each one three times the size of the kid. Ogobogo was ready to let his cane fly, but at that very moment had an epiphany. He could beat the kid, if he had, it would have had an immediate pacifying effect on the country, he would be a feared leader not often challenged by the masses, however it would likely have had a long term effect, and Ogobogo would have been remembered in posterity like the cannibal emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who encountered an eerily similar situation, but in his case he let his ivory cane fly, and was soon after deposed and remembered as a war criminal, a villain not a hero. Ogobogo, put his cane down. Although the president was unaware, the kid he had spared was the very kid who had thrown a rock at his limousine, had he known this, things may have proceeded much differently.

The President addressed the crowded cell:

“You have two choices, as punishment for your treasonous actions. You can either stay in this cell or another cell like it, for an undetermined amount of time, await trial, and will likely be put to death for your actions, or you can come with me, to a much different kind of prison. There will be hard work, for some of you it will be physical, and for others mental, but your time there will be shorter then if you stay here, and once you’re released, and you will be released, you will be transformed into great men of the world, what is your choice?”

Most of the criminals chose the later option, as would be expected, and they were brought by an army convoy to another location. Soldiers separated out the students. Those who looked built, more physically strong, were taken away. Those of weaker build were left at the facility.

The strong ones were taken to a location that was mostly an open field, and there they began to train, physically, ten hours a day, practicing different sports, these men would soon become the next generation of Olympic athletes. Training ten hours a day, every day, they would achieve there ten thousand hours just before the next Olympic Games, which Ogobogo was eagerly awaiting.

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The ones who didn’t have their bodies too offer to Ogobogo and the Gambodiana offered their brains.

The brains, as they were called, were lined up, and the president walked down the line, looking at the students, and then calling out what they would be studying. Like this, without knowing anything about any of them, he assigned them to all there assorted studies.

“You save this one for me,” said the president.

It was the kid, the one who threw the rock, the one who was about to be caned. He was given an extremely important subject to study. Unlike the rest, his assignment was a secret.

The brains were taken to a strange sort of prison called the Ten Thousand Hour Prison of the Mind. They were each assigned a room. It would be accurate to call the room a cell, but it was significantly different then a jail cell, it was more like a monk’s cell. The room was small, holding only a cot, a table, and two chairs. Like a jail cell the door was locked, and if one of the “prisoners” had to use the bathroom they would have to call with a button for a guard to escort them to the latrine. None of the cells had windows. It was a prison, horrifying in it’s isolation and simplicity, but still a more pleasant one then the other more orthodox prisons in that country.

Upon their arrival the warden explained how everything works.

“You will be in this prison for ten thousand hours of study. Once you have completed the time requirement, you will be released. Each of your desks has a clock attached to it, once you press the clock the countdown will begin, press the clock again and to pause the time when you are not studying.  We will know if your clock is on and we will come by periodically to inspect that you are studying, if you are caught with your clock running and not studying, the penalties will be severe.”

And so it was, when they turned their clock on, a red light came on outside the cell. Guards patrolled the hallways and looked in to see if they were studying or not. There was a two way mirror on the door to each cell, so they were not able to see if someone was looking at you or not.

The penalties were not quite as strict as the warden originally suggested. Beatings occurred in the early months of prison for running the clock, but they were not too severe, as it would have been a deterrent to progress. If one of the student/prisoners, after significant time was spent at a study, the punishment for accidently running the clock was more a stern warning then anything else, by that point they almost always were true accidents. In the last third of the time spent on study, when their time had reached bellow three thousand hours (technically 3,333 hours) then they would almost not be punished at all, if they had fallen asleep the guards quietly open their doors and pause their clocks, and never really mention it later.

The Prisoners at the other prison, the Ten Thousand Hour Prison of the Body, had it much worse. Their days were not nearly as personalized; they often worked as teems, under the constant surveillance of several coaches. They worked hard hours from the crack of dawn, until lunch were they ate with great varsity, and rested for an hour. Then more of the same work well into the night, when they would have dinner and collapse into their own beds. Some of the athletes died from exhaustion, before breaking their first thousand hours, but once that hurdle was passed it became a punishment of passion for them.

Either way, either prison was much better than the alternative. Those passionate protesters, who had boldly turned down the offer of the president, went to the more orthodox prisons. Many of them didn’t even make it to those prisons. Most of the ones who did, didn’t last more then 500 hours there, only half a dozen of them ever left the “real” prisons.

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Depending on what you were studying in the prison of the mind, your table would have something different on it. The chess students had a chess board. The musicians had their assigned instruments. The painters had their various paints, and sketch books, and canvases to hone their craft. There were a handful of portable computers that circulated around the prison, not enough for everyone to have their own, but enough for everyone who would be benefited by the use of a computer to have time at one for a few hours each week. Others, like the future chefs, spent half their time in the kitchen learning how to cook, and half their time in their cells reading about how to cook since their craft could not be as easily practiced in solitude. The skills that needed to be practiced outside of the cells were less common, as they tended to cost the prison more money and resources then the more solitary studies did.

On most days an instructor would come by for an hour, to teach, helping the prisoners of the mind get past the early hurdles that occurred in any sort of study. They also brought books from time to time, and set the student prisoner with a task or two to accomplish in the next few days. Once there were significant hours put down, the instructor came by less and less frequently, the students tended to outperform their instructors before getting to far down the rabbit hole.

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One unexpected twist that occurred with some of the student prisoners was that when they got close to the end of their ten thousand hours, they would continue to study without activating the clock, because they had developed an unexplainable subconscious fear of life outside the prison. They had become so use to the routine that ending it, or even changing it to some degree, felt like approaching death. A small handful actually killed themselves shortly before their clocks ran out. When guards started to notice the unprecedented trend, they informed the president. In order to counteract the phenomenon, he set up a very handsome prize for the first student prisoner to break the ten thousand hour mark.

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Once a student/prisoner had finally completed the last hour of study, and broke the ten thousand hour barrier, there was a ceremony, and they were released with the instruction to set upon the world and dominate their narrow field of expertise. They were not considered ex-con’s but Graduates.

The first to graduate was a chess student. According to the trends, there should have been two others who would have broken the ten thousand hours shortly before he did, one of them, another chess player, had turned his clock off in order to prevent leaving the prison, the other, a writer, had turned his own clock off permanently. So it was Peter Oquaye, too graduate first, and once he graduated a month of preparations for his ceremony commenced.

His graduation was celebrated throughout the country, in small, what could be considered Neighborhood Block Parties. In the capital there was a massive celebration, with speeches made by various important men, including the president himself. There was a feast with hundreds of people in attendance, elegant food prepared by the few talented chefs studying at the prison. Peter Oquaye was honored again at the feast, as were ten others who had broken the ten thousand hour mark in the time it took to prepare the ceremony. At the feast there was live music played by the student/prisoners, composed by one of the student/prisoner. The feast was concluded with an exhibition game of living chess between Peter and an African Chess Grandmaster (the only one at that time), which peter won. They played through to checkmate, which is uncommon at such a high level, and once the win was confirmed a dazzling display of fireworks erupted, which was also accompanied by incidental music played by the ten thousand hour orchestra.

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The day of Peter Oquaye’s graduation became a national holiday, one of the big three holidays, along with their Independence Day and President Ogobogo’s Birthday. It became traditional for the students who broke their ten thousand hours to have their “graduation ceremony” held on that day.

It took approximately three years to break the ten thousand hour mark for most students. Impressive because for most people it would take ten years. However most people can only devote at best three hours a day or twenty hours a week to study, because life gets in the way. The students of the Ten Thousand Hour Prison of the Mind, devoted twelve to fourteen hours a day, every day with very few brakes.

It was announced at the feast that the prize peter had won, by being the first to graduate, was his very own suite of apartments, located at one of the presidents own privet estates, a library full of important chess books, a computer, and a government stipend so that he would never have to work again.

In the first international chess tournament held after his graduation, Peter along with five other Gambodianans found toured the end they were all battling each other for the top prize, the representatives of all the other nations competing had been beaten in the earlier rounds, and the judges were dumbfounded.

Works by the artists were packed up and sent to some of the finest art galleries and auction houses in the world. The paintings were sold at such a premium, that just a handful had covered the costs of the whole original experiment.

The graduates tended to be happy to pay back the prison tenfold what the prison spent on them, they had become great people, they wanted the prison to flourish and make more people great as it had done for them. It was a desirable place for talented students to become extremely talented, and the name was changed to the Ten Thousand Hour Academy of the Mind. Instead of criminals, teachers recommended students to the academy, entry was voluntary, and most kids hoped they would be picked.

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There were some strange subjects whose results were relatively unexpected:

The Gambodiana is a Christian Country, President Ogogbogo, a devout Christian himself, was interested in seeing the results of what would happen had one student/pensioner spent their ten thousand hours studying religion. President Ogobogo, who had seen the light of Jesus Christ, knew that ten thousand hours in the study of religion, all religion, would prove definitively and scientifically that Christianity was the one true religion. Unfortunately, religion and science do not often cooperate well together, and this was certainly one of those cases. The student/prisoner selected for this small branch of the experiment, went into his first hour as a blasé agnostic, and finished his ten thousandth hour as, not just an atheist, but a vehement unapologetic Nihilist, who was quickly shipped off to Europe where he would not be as well noticed, just one atheist among many others.

A dozen student/prisoners were picked to study writing, but here the experiment failed to produce the anticipated results. The writers were locked in their cells like all the others, and given many books to read, and assignments to write. Their writing was technically perfect, as far as grammar is concerned, their vocabulary, larger than the typical writers, but there was still something lacking. They were unable to create stories, and because of this they were not progressing at the same rate all the other student/prisoners were. Writing it seemed was a process of packaging and redistributing the human experience, and without that experience there was nothing to package, nothing to distribute. This particular experiment was abandoned before anyone broke the five thousand hour mark, pending revisions that have not yet been made. There were however two exseptions, two student/prisoners who were exceling at the art, one of them had committed suicide shortly before his graduation, the other after some worldly travels, wrote a short essay on the prision with the not so creative title of: “The Ten Thousand Hour Prison of the Mind.”

The other strange subject was the boy, that kept reappearing, the one who was about to be killed just as the president had his epiphany, the one who had thrown the rock at the limo. He was selected for a most important subject; his ten thousand hours would be spent studying politics, political history, political cause and effect. He was selected and, in albeit a bizarre way, groomed to be the next president of The Gambodiana, the future replacement of Ramsey Ogobogo. The Kid, Joseph Acheampong, had many disagreements with the president. Unlike with his reaction to the religious outcome, the president accepted the disagreements from Joseph, and had almost expected them to come. Dedicated to his experiments, Ramsey Ogobogo became the student of his young future replacement, and according to many he has been a better leader for it.

ZACH SMITH is a graduate of Chestnut Hill College and has been writing for more than a dozen years. He has struggled his entire life with Dyslexia and has worked very hard to write at the level he does today. His work has previously appeared in: Fast-Forward Festival, the Short Humor Site, and Schlock Magazine, among others.

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