|Freedom Obtained After Being on the Verge of Death (2)|
Freedom Obtained After Being on the Verge of Death (2)
from Gaesung, S. Hwanghae Province
Caught again by the Security Department, escape again from the labor training corps to the National Security Agency and the escape
At the labor training corps, I was made the team leader for two months. After one month as the team leader, we were asked if anyone had experience raising pigs. I had good pig-raising skills. There was a prostitute among us. She was suffering from a venereal disease and had a rotten smell. She had to walk with her legs wide open. Since I was the team leader, the other inmates asked me to have her send somewhere else. Her conditions were so terrible that there were warts all over the inside and outside of her uterus. I was horrified because I could not see any flesh. I got salt from the mess and made her wash herself with salt water. She jumped up and down out of pain. Then, I made her wash herself with fresh water. I was worried that she may spread the disease to other people. So I told the guards about her condition and I went to reexamine her with an old woman and a man. We were all disgusted by what we saw. The next day, she was released. We all figured she would die anyway.
While raising pigs, I lived a solitary life instead of a collective one. I washed my socks and I washed my clothes. I could eat as much as I wanted. I was told that I would be released if I raised healthy pigs that bore piglets so I worked very hard.
One day, while taking care of the pigs, I was taken to the National Security Agency (NSA). I thought I would never see the sky ever again. An NSA agent came to take me and loaded me and my stuff on to his bicycle. He told me not to think that I could fool him easily. He told me that he would spare me if I confessed to what I did in China and otherwise he would kill me without even giving me the chance to see my children. I thought once I am taken to the provincial NSA, there is little chance of me getting out alive. They kept me in solitary confinement and told me to write down everything in a notebook. It was 1998 at the time. I could not stop crying. I was just 39 and here my life would finish. I felt too aggrieved to write anything. Then, I said I wanted to go to the bathroom. But it was dark outside and there was no one out there. I looked out and saw the fence and heard the car noise. As I looked outside, I could not hold it any longer and since I could not do it in my pants, I excused myself in a corner of the cell. It smelled bad so I covered the excrement with the paper that had been given to me to write my confession. I looked outside the double window and I decided it was worth risking my life. I removed the fixed door and stuck my head outward. It fit through just barely. I pulled back my head and wrote on the notebook that I was never involved in human trafficking and that they should investigate about me in Hoeryung. I took off all my clothes and barely sneaked through the hole. I retrieved my clothes from under the window put them on and began my escape. On my way to the Soosung River in Chungjin, I saw the bicycle lights. I thought the guards had found out about my escape and were coming after me. So I crouched inside a house corner and then crossed the dike. I had to cross the Soosung River in order to get on a train. The local patrol spotted me crossing the river and captured me although I tried my best to remain hidden from the lights. They asked me where I was from and seeing that I was about to collapse from hunger, he told me to go after handing me 10 won. I was trying to go to the Soosung station, but the security there was too tight so I went to Gom Mountain instead. The Mountain also had two columns of patrol. I wore only pants and underwear. I rushed to the bottom of the train and hopped on to the wheel axis. The patrol checked the bottom of the train as well so I quickly hopped on to the top of the train when the train began moving. So I reached Hoeryung. I could not go home because my house had changed, and our family had moved to a small house.
Repatriated to North Korea, escaped again only to be repatriated yet again
In North Korea, it is impossible to tell even my closest friends that I had been captured by and have escaped from the NSA. The NSA agents were after me. I hid myself in a mountain and picked acorns. I had about 150 of them. In December of 1998, I went to China. After spending New Year of 1999 in China, I stayed there. Since I worked well, my employers told me that they would protect me. Then, on September 17, 2003, I was captured. My landlord had ratted me out.
On January 13, 2004, I went to China again along with Ok. My eldest child was already in China. In that car alone, there were ten people. Four Chinese in the front, and about ten people rode together. There were people on the car roof as well. Keeping in touch over the phone, we made it to Yanji. I told them that if they ratted out on me, my family and I myself would be in danger. After experiencing close encounters with death after repatriation to North Korea several times, I decided that I have to go to South Korea. On March 18, 2004, I left the Yanji station and headed to Inner Mongolia with 11 people. On March 20, we were caught just shy of reaching Inner Mongolia. At that place, it was about 2 meters to the aqueduct plank, 9 women jumped down. People told me not to go to the Inner Mongolian customs.
We had passed two windows when one man turned out missing. If they told the ten to duck, we ducked. The car was slow and I saw someone run towards us yielding a gun. All ten jumped without thinking through about the situation. It was not easy to run in the desert and it was easy for them to catch us because I shouted “Let’s run!” Since I thought I am as good as dead if I am caught, I kept a bottle of sleeping pills. When the soldiers approached me, I swallowed the pills. My oldest son told the border patrol that I had taken the pills, and my son and I were taken to different places. I regained consciousness after two days. Once I regained my consciousness, I realized I was in a hospital. After being repatriated to North Korea and interrogated, only my family was sent to the labor training corps for six months, and the rest of our party were taken to Shineuiju NSA and never heard from again.
The Hoeryung NSA and the labor training corps
When I was at the Hoeryung NSA following my capture in Inner Mongolia, 25 people were cramped into a small cell. It had no running water so we could not even wash our face and we only had corn porridge to eat. At the Hoeryung NSA, cell #1 was for men, #2 for women, #3 for men, and #4 for women. I was in cell #4 and Keum in #3. We were interrogated separately to see if our statements matched. The person who had been there the longest was there for seven months.
The reason why the Hoeryung NSA is said to be the toughest is because the inmates are not allowed to move, and if we make the slightest movement we were beaten mercilessly and the guards kept a very tight watch.
From five in the morning when we wake up to ten at night, we had to sit cross-legged and not move at all. The only break time was for meals and bathrooms. Since the meals were provided starting from cell #1 and I was in cell #4, I enjoyed longer breaks. People scraped everything from the bowl and ate. One bucket of water was provided for each cell, and 25 people had to share it to drink, wash, and flush the toilet. There were so many lice. Since I was in the cell for women, we would have our periods. Since we had to use a piece of cloth and wash it and use it again, we had the worst water shortages in those times. We had to use a piece of cloth and reuse it after washing it. This one woman who stayed in the cell for the longest, seven months, told me that she could never brushed her teeth. So the person who had been there for the longest and was toughest got to wash first, and the people who came later would wash afterwards. If someone had her period, she would wash her underwear with the cloth and the next women washed the cloth. In the end, one could not tell if the remaining water was black or red. And we had to wash the floor with the towel dipped into that water. Not surprisingly, the stanch of blood and sweat in the cell. That is why there were so many lice at the NSA cells. After one month at the Hoeryung NSA, Keum was released, and I spent six months at the labor training corps.
At the labor training corps, we were fed corn rice with stale reddish leaves and salt soup. Since it was autumn, we were also used to make kimchi. They fed us to make us work. There were about 90 of us. Among them, about ten worked in the accounting office and I happened to be one of them. It was a big deal because we were fed much better at the accounting office than at the labor training corps although I had to eat breakfast at the labor training corps.
In the labor training corps, there was a chief (dae-jang) of the labor camp. The same person who was the chief in 1998 was still the chief. There were two supervisors and the chief. Interestingly, there was discord among the three. And one of us gave some money to the chief and he let her work as the housemaid. Even though she came on the same date as us and had been sentenced to four months, she left after just three months. I worked hard doing as much as a very strong man would do. There was a bean field at the labor training corps, and we were put in a competition to outdo each other. While working there, there were chances to escape. But if I had escaped from there, I would have had to stay in hiding or continue a life on the run. That is why I decided to serve out my term to the end, no matter how difficult it was.
At the labor training corps, I built houses. There were three groups and we churned out about 10,000 sheets every day. It is difficult to match that speed without working really hard. Those who can use some strength go to do lumber work, the next tough people would become the supervisors, and the rest worked on making bricks. Working with men who could not use much strength made things difficult for the women. The women did hard work such as pasting the mortar. Then, there were many that fainted sickness. Since I was the laborious one, I cursed and hurled insults at them. There really was an assortment of weird actors in the labor training corps. Some of them should really be sent to labor camp. In the dorms, the strong ones took the warm places, and the cold places were left for the ones who have fallen droopy.
This time around, I had a tough time in the first two months, but after that, I did not experience too much hardship. I broke my ribs while fighting with my team leader. At least I was allowed to rest at home for a fortnight because of my broken ribs. Since I worked without shirking or collapsing, fatigue slowly came. The other inmates told me that I should feign sickness but my impatience at watching others work did not allow for that. But later in the end, I was fatigued and was sent to the hospital for a general examination. I had no pulse and my chest ached so I figured my conditions were bad enough to be released. However, when I went to the hospital, although I walked a little crookedly, my eyes were sharp. So the examinations came out negative. They said that I would get better in time. So I could not get a release.
But I felt that there was no way for me to return to the labor camp so I made my escape. I lay hidden for 15 days. After 15 days, I was able to make a phone call to China. I told them that I would go to China, but on the rendezvous day, I was caught by people who specialize on capturing the escapees. Others who are caught escaping get reeducated and go through some tough times, but I did not get into that much trouble. So I stayed for another fortnight and was released due to ill health. This time fatigue really came. I could not work any further. Maybe it was a mental illness or something because my legs kept twisting and my hair turned yellow and fell out. My nails also fell out and I suffered from chronic diarrhea. I could not work because I was exhausted. That is why I was let out.
Another escape from North Korea with my son
I rested at home and went to China again in November. This time I had the most difficult time crossing the border. With some bread and the address of a relative in a backpack, my son and I headed to the lower stream of the Tumen by-passing Hoeryung. We had to pass the guard post #10, but we had no identification card so we waited and hopped on to a car for some money. But the car did not head to our intended destination so we had to get off in the middle. Then, another car heading to Bangwon passed by. Since the car did not stop, we ran after it and got on the car with my son’s help. But there were already some people in the car and my son fell off from the car. So I waited for my son upon arrival at the destination. I had to wait for a very long time and even thought of going alone. Fortunately, my son showed up. I asked him why he was so late and he said he had been held and questioned by the border guard. They found him suspicious and searched his backpack and took him to the guard post. An officer passing by saw what was going on and told the men to let him go because it would be cumbersome, but all the bread in the backpack was taken.
Afterwards, we had to walk the mountain roads on empty stomachs since we had no food. We walked through the night and made a fire, and let my boy have some sleep. But because of the treacherous mountain terrain, we started losing our sense of direction. In the afternoon, we discovered a tent, but it was empty so we could not get anything to eat. We kept filling our stomachs with water. When we climbed down the mountains, we saw the Tumen and Hoeryung across the river. We were in depair because we were right back where we started. So we went back to the mountain and took side walks next to the paved road. But because we were so hungry, I could not walk upright and my son had to keep supporting me. It was so difficult that we went out to the main road. But we ran out of strength to keep on walking, so my son and I slept for a moment.
After three days, we gathered some leaves and slept, barely fighting off the cold. Although I slept for a bit, we could not sleep for long because of the shivering and got back up and kept walking. I could not walk straight as I kept teetering and my legs kept twisting. I even told my son to eat my leg and use the energy to walk with me on his back. I began to lose consciousness because of hunger and began walking downhill after passing the ridge. We could not find any people or houses in the vicinity. We went a little further and started seeing farms. We soon stumbled upon a village and opened the door of any house and asked for food, but the woman pushed us out. So we told her that we would not enter her house so just give us some food, but she said no and chased us out. After that, we went into another house and fainted as soon as I walked in. There was one man in the house, and he also told us to leave. But I saw porridge, and pleaded to have some of it. The man told us to come in and first gave us some rice cakes. It was difficult to eat food after such a long period of hunger, and I fell asleep out of exhaustion. When I woke up, we had meat, but I could not eat it and threw up. Seeing this, the man could not chase us out. We started to recover and began taking food little by little. My son had no problem digesting from the first day. Afterwards, I went buy new clothes for my son because his was so worn out, but the security became too tight. I passed a checkpoint, and asked an acquaintance to bring the new clothes my soon return together with him. So it was with all the hardship that I was able to come here.
Have you heard any news of your relatives?
I came in South Korea and heard that they were all exiled. If deported to the detention center, then the entire family has to stay there until they die and can never come out. If it is deportation to the safety center then they go into the mountain. I heard that one or two home room supervisors watch over it.
Captured in Inner Mongolia, you came to Dandong. What kind of examination did you get from the Dandong Chinese border patrol?
First of all, when they transport prisoners they chain them, and before prisoners enter the cell they examine prisoners but they do not examine prisoners in too humiliating a manner. If women take off their underwear, or take off their cloth that they used for their periods, they use their feet to dig around looking for money.
Did Chinese ask about people that help you?
No. There was nothing like that. Instead they had prisoners write some Korean proverbs, and that’s not just one or two people but everyone who was caught. I don’t know the reason. They pass things like clothes bags but things like recorders are confiscated.
How many days did they examine you?
About one week. They put the chains on me and take me to the Yalu River bridge and about half way when the bridge color changes, they take of the chains and turn me over to the detention center.
Do they chain you again there?
They dropped me off in front of the Shineuiju NSA detention center so there is no need. They tested for AIDS. The Shineuiju NSA detention center has about 10 cells. They are small but there are several. They also separate out family, men and women. If we had come form Yanji the same day in the same group, then they would separate the group. I was in cell #8. They boiled corn chips and soybean, and mix soybean with garbage and with corn chip and put very little on a place and give it you, with salt soup.
I had been at Hoeryung, Onsung and Shineuiju center, but Shineuiju had the best food, hygiene and the guards. If you go in they make you take off all your clothes. Suspecting that you stored money in your womb, they make you do “pumping.” There are times when valuables come out, but almost nothing comes out. A female solder comes in at the Shineuiu NSA detention center and lay a cover, and there is a spot that would have fit an old boiler and pipe, they have the women lie there while the soldier puts on gloves and puts her hands in the women’s uterus. They did that to all women. But the soldier was sick and rested a week, so I was lucky and didn’t have to be examined. If you say you’re sick they give you medicine. We were passed on to the Hoeryung detention center from there.
What was the treatment for pregnant women?
In our time there were seven pregnant women. They were all put in one cell. When with us they moved and acted with us. But it should have been difficult for them. Since they are pregnant. After we left we did not see them. After I met some people at HoehRyung that I met at Shineuiju and they said that they aborted the baby, killed and the kid and came to the detention center. This is last year’s story.
Have you seen public execution? When was the first time you saw it?
I don’t remember the year. Between 1995 and 1998, every month I saw about two. Crimes were often killing cows, having South Korean documents, or selling people (It doesn’t matter how many you do, all those people were killed).
How did Soldiers kill them?
I saw in 1998. It was someone who killed a cow and ate it. A son and father. There feet are suspected 20 cm in the air, their arms and stomachs are tied, and their mouths are covered with a black cloth. The people who come out to die, even knowing its their last, seem to look through the audience looking for people they know. They raised their head and looked here and there in the audience. And then judges revealed the person’s crime. He was convicted in that way and sentenced to death. First soldiers shoot the head. If a bullet enters a small head three times, the head shape disappears. I have lots of guts or something, but looking quickly brings bad dreams and can’t eat so I sit right in front and watch if they say they will shoot.
After sentencing did they shield prisoners with curtain?
No. They do not. The officers bring the prisoner by both arms. Then after the judgment is passed he is dragged away. The prisoner is already in a daze.
We have heard that behind the curtain they hit prisoner half dead. Have you seen it?
What I have seen is not that harsh. Perhaps these are people who have come to terms with their death but when I saw them it was not like that. First the officers give the command. They shout, aim towards someone! In this way. When hanging with their child, sometimes they look at their child. Sometimes brain fluid flows out. At one execution I’ve seen, the prisoner’s face was hit with the bullet and the front portion, like a lid was opened, it opened and brain fluid flew out madly. But it fell and the other half naturally went up and attached. After it fell over. One person put that corpse upside down in. Because a person’s length passes half, the officers hit the sack and put the corpse in and take it away in a truck. They put the brian fluid on a stake and put dirt on it. That was in the summer and we could smell the stink of blood, it was very disgusting. I saw that scene from about 10 meters away. Three people from one spot shot at one spot.
Do they force you to watch the public execution?
A broadcast car announces a public trial. Often they do it in the marketplace so many people gather. Because kids don’t go to school, it is all children. People are scared of terror.
Have you seen people hang ?
In 1979, a kid from Kaesung. It was not such a serious crime. Because the foundation was bad, even small things were bloated into large things. His crime was rape, unemployment and brawling. Because of all three, he was forced public hanging. When they hang, he was already placed in the car but could not stand properly. He was dragged there and couldn’t even stand; they hung the kid for about thirty minutes.
Have you seen execution by burning?
I’ve just heard of it. I’ve never seen it. During public executions, they don’t let the family go see it.
How many people starving to death have you seen?
If you go out to the marketplace you see people lying there dead. A little boy. Went out to sell liquor. At the crosswalk. That boy would sit but he was so starved he was bloated. People who come out to sell candy, bread will give the child some food, and then he would put it in his pocket to give his little bro/sis. So if you tell him prod him to eat it, he would put it in his mouth to eat it, but won’t be able to eat it and throw it up. Under those circumstances he would sit there and sing a song. He would sing of the great dear leader Kim Jung Il shaking his body. We would say to each other that he is singing a song of revolution, but the next morning he was in a corner dead. Other flower swallows (child beggars) put him on a cart and buried him.
People don’t have money for coffins. There is such a large number of deaths. In some places an entire family will die. We would go to the mountain for wood, I saw a pit dug in three rows. Like a piano, I was looking at a hill with no trees and saw a dead child. Three people came and buried that child.
Is there anything else that you want to add?
When I was caught at the Onsung detention center it was a general river crossing, so they asked about what I did in China. But what happened was that when they give us food, they give us only what is equivalent to about three large spoonfuls. So I was so hungry. The lady makes the food, but ladling is something us prisoners do. So what I mean is that to the people who do their best to look good (suck up) they give a bit more. They give us just enough not to die from starvation.
At Onsung there are exactly 3 cells, two for men and one for women. And the rest of the women are placed around both halls. Every cell has a toilet, and there is also a toilet at the end of the hall way. So when someone wants to pooh, because the toilet in the cell has a low ceiling, people go to pooh in the hall toilet. So men, women, everyone poohs at the toilet in the end of the hall and we must keep both hands on our knees and must have our heads up straight while excreting or the supervisors will beat us. So if we heard the sounds of heels, we would pay attention and be in ten-hut position. There were men in the cell, I don’t know what the Chinese man did but there was one also. But that China man was very sick and his face was very pale and his the clothes he came in were so big. That person was in the jail for so long, he started to speak some Korean.
At the Onsung detention center, if you want to go to the bathroom you have to say, “Sir, may I go to the toilet number ten located in the hallway?” Then the officer will say, “go and come back”. Then you have to say “Thank you” and come back, but that Chinese man would follow that Korean fumblingly. That man was so sick and out of his senses. He was so slow to raise and lower his pants that the women who lined the hall could all his private part and were embarrassed.
When I was in the labor training corps, a 46-year-old man without any visitors really fell weak, but there was no one to look after him. One day, he tried to escape while working. Since he would be easily found on the main roads he ran into the mountains. He died in the mountains. The people said “That bastards tried his best not to work and now he is dead.” People who were harvesting mushrooms found the man’s body 4, 5 days later. Four people brought back his body and buried it.
One more thing. A 36-year-old man could not harvest any mushrooms and came to the labor training corps drunk (alcohol and tobacco were banned at the time). The guard kicked his stomach and his guts spilled out. The man held on to his stomach in agony. The guard said he was feigning it and sent the man to the hospital the next day. They say he died there. When a man dies like that, the guard in charge is punished. So I heard that the guard was sent to prison for murder.