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"I Was a Broker" (2)
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2016-01-26 10:38:20
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"I Was a Broker" (2) 


RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



One enters the prison through a big L-shaped iron door and then another L shaped iron door awaits on the left. After this second iron door is a long quarridor with 7-8 steel doors on either side. At first glance, one can easily understand that this place is a detention center. The prison cell is a meager five by five meters and the floor was in a fashion reminiscent of an North Korean agricultural advertisement center. On one side of the room, blankets were neatly piled. There was a sink and a toilet with a security camera installed on the ceiling. Outside the bars of the cell, a security guard patrolled without rest, inspecting each room he passed by. I had been shocked when I had been first captured, but the shock had worn off earlier, leaving me in a calm state. Now, at the sight of my prison state, my earlier calm gave way to blinding white-hot anger at my situation. I reminded myself that I had to calm down and think rationally. My situation was just beginning. What would happen to me now? I only had a introductory letter in Mongolian, two phone cards, and a small phone book. The phone numbers of people that I had called in China and Korea could be traced using the phone card a lot of people could be hurt if Chinese military took the phone card away from me. 


I broke the phone card and put it in the toilet. I ripped out pages from the phone book containing important numbers and rubbed out the ink and put it also in the toilet along with the Mongolian introductory letters. I flushed them all together. It was a miracle that these important information was on my person since our cell phones and handluggages were confiscated at the time of our capture. I kneeled and prayed for a long time, calling out, “Lord, I am here in this place. I am a sinner and I beg for salvation.” Still even after praying, I could not find peace. I paced the length of my room, still restless, both emotionally and physically. Then I caught sight of the night sky out of the cell window. I gazed out south and stared for what seemed like forever at the breathtaking desert night sky. The sky was devoid of haze and stars shone brightly without any interference—it seemed like a spectacular fantasy land, far away from my own reality.


I kept crying out to Christ. In the past, I had turned to Christ daily, especially in times of hardship. I have often told North Korean defectors that while I am not a missionary, in difficult times we must all trust in the Lord and everything will be all right.


The main problem is not the three-country escape most refugees face. Soon they will open a secret new road, making it safer and easier for more defectors to escape. The main concern is the financial backing. There is no more financial room for helping escapees. If we made about 30,000 won per person, then it would have been enough. Yet, the problem is North Korea—it was just very difficult to enter. I didn’t want to demand payment and go through this process so coldhearted and mechanically. Rather, if everything went my way, I would have found a person that I could deeply trust and rely on and I would have taught him how to help me in my endeavors to rescue these refugees. It had just been the beginning, and ways of how I would have achieved my goal had just been starting to make sense to me. I had spent years focused on North Korea; years focused on how to get the refugees out. I had spent years of my time and effort and I was resentful and filled with regret at how all of my effort had tumbled in one fell swoop.


I could hear what sounded like Eun-Sim’s cries. I asked the patrolling guard who was crying but he only narrowed his eyes at me as he walked away. The cry seemed to get louder with each moment, rising into a wail. I think it is Eun-Sim’s cries—how could it not be? She had been sold to Shandon Province, Qingdao when she was 19 but she had escaped, only to be caught in Yanbian by the police. She had been repartriated to North Korea then, and due to her previous experience, she feared being sent back to North Korea more than she feared death. I realized how much I had wronged her. What had I done? As dawn arrived, I heard the murmur of her voice. I think she was cleaning the hallway as an officer supervised her. She must have finished cleaning the hallways a while later since I could see her form sweeping the yard from my window. I told the officer that I would clean the yard instead of Eun-Sim and he acquiesced, letting me come out and sweep the yard for her. As I swept, I estimated that the yard was about 10m x 25/30m. There was also a steel net about 3 meter high—escape seemed highly unlikely.


In the cell next to me was Gal-Lyang and a boy that seemed to be about 18 years old. The cell next to that was Young-Ok and a woman that seemed to be in her early thirties. The woman seemed very frail, her face was very pale as if she had been suffering from various maladies. In the morning, several officers, including the one that had examined me earlier, called upon my companions and I. They handcuffed Gal-Lyang and I together and shackled our feet together, connecting the cuffs and the shackles together by a heavy iron chain. I don’t think that even beasts are chained in such a manner. Between Eun-Sim and Young-Ok was also a handcuff with an iron chain attached to it. There were other prisoners in the prison: other refugees and Korean-Chinese. Yet, we were the only ones called out and chained that day. The flushed face of Young-ok seemed to turn a dark purple as if he couldn’t even breathe properly. Lord, I am a sinner. I inwardly asked for silent forgiveness as we were herded onto a bus.


Young-Ok and Eun-Sim was right in front of us. I wanted to comfort them but there were two officers in the bus with us, with the older one warning us not to say a word. After a while, the bus navigated through narrow alleyways and onto a broad street that was very familiar to me. The car was headed south. There is a Border Prison outside the city but if we were not headed there, we were probably headed for Jining or Huhehaote.  There was no way of knowing what would happen to us next. The bus didn’t slow as we neared the Border Prison. Instead, the bus suddenly switched directions and sped up as, heading east. East. We were heading east for what it seemed like hours without a rest. We weren’t even granted a lunch break. The final destination for our bus, as it turned out, was Xilin Gol League Border Security. The Border Security complex was composed of several buildings over a large area, with even the trees showing signs of care. It seemed larger and well-organized. As we arrived at what seemed like the main building, severl officers paced about the entrance. Finally they assigned three officers for each member of our party and then they disappeared into the several nearby buildings in the complex.