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Prison Tales

Dreams of My Precious Mother

Lee Jun Ha's Prison Tales 12.
 |  2009-07-02 14:46
It was snowing. Usually snow made me happy, but not this time.

From the day I was committed to prison, the Sun seemed to be laughing at me and the budding trees, chirping birds and early-blooming willows no longer seemed beautiful anymore.

In fact, it looked as if everything was laughing at me. For some reason I took a glance across at the interview room. The moment I thought maybe mother is coming to visit me today and turned my eyes therein, I saw a mother carrying a heavy bag into the room.

I only saw her back, but she was definitely my mother! It was about 100 meters between the interview room and me, so it was difficult to distinguish a person in there; but it was the feeling that can only be felt between parents and their children.

I was so certain that I was right. It was her. It was my mother. How could I not know her when she was everything I had? I was just about to call to her when I heard an alarm bell ring. I opened my eyes, and knew it was only a dream.

Outside the window, it was snowing. Just the day before, the snow had all melted. Spring had already arrived. Probably the last snowflakes of the year were coming down then, just like in my dream.

Although it had only been a dream, for some reason I had the feeling that mother was coming. My heart fluttered with anticipation.

While engaged in cleaning up the snow, I looked up. I couldnt have been any more surprised. I was right there on the spot I had seen in my dream!

I took a glance at the interview room, and I saw mother, carrying a heavy bag and a bundle of something. Is this a dream too? I wondered.

It wasnt, but the excitement was soon gone and my heart started to ache; my mother was clearly exhausted.

If only I had not been a prisoner, I would have immediately rushed over and carried the heavy bag for her, but I couldnt do so and it made me deeply sad. She had to come all that way just because I committed a crime. I felt so very, very sorry.

A security official came over and told me to go to the interview room, but my steps were heavy. I slowly entered the waiting room, where another official sent me on to the actual interview room.

The moment I saw my mother, I was so shocked. She was definitely my mother, but on the other hand it wasnt her. The mother from when I left home was gone. The woman in front of me was an old lady with wrinkles and white hair.

I was so stunned. I just blankly stared at her face.

Jun Ha, is she your mother? The official felt compelled to ask.

I braced myself and looked again, to confirm it was her. It was. My one and only, my precious mother.

Jun Ha, have you been sick? Any injuries? Arent you starved?

She tried so hard not to cry. She asked me questions, but I could see traces of tears in her eyes. Once again I felt that my mother was a very strong woman.

The official came in to end the interview after a mere five minutes.

Im fine, I told my mother, You dont have to come all the way to visit me anymore. No matter what, I will go back to you, alive. You look so miserable because of me. Take good care and wait for me. Bye.

Having finished my words, I had to walk away. I didnt want to cry in front of her. I just went to the dining room where the food she had cooked for me was served. When I saw the food, which was so full of my mothers love for me, I felt tears gather in my eyes.

Mother! I shouted to myself. I couldnt eat anything because I was too choked up with tears, not even a spoonful of the food mother had cooked for me. I had to just leave the room with the 30kg of powdered grain that mother had brought all that way. That day I couldnt eat anything. I was too depressed.

Later, I saw the logging section head.

Jun Ha. What you can do for your mother here is not getting depressed and refusing to eat, it is to eat up and live your life well and healthily, he told me gently, Calm down, and try to keep yourself strong for her.

He was right in every way. I have a mother and a nice section head who is trying to cheer me up. Am I so helpless? I thought. I shall cheer myself up. And I shall learn. Learn the work and also how to maintain relationships with other people.

The powdered grain mother brought me is called Sokdojeon. It is made from corn. This powder, when mixed with an adequate amount of water, becomes a sort of gluttonous corn rice cake.

They call it Sokdojeon because you can make rice cakes out of it anywhere very quickly, and sokdo means speed. Among the prisoners, though, it was called Peongpeongi. North Korean people take it along when they take a long trip or get mobilized for a big construction project because it is portable.

When prisoners received the powder from their visitors, no matter how much or little the amount, they submitted it to the food warehouse and took 500g of it once a day before dinner.

Management of the food warehouse was done by a prisoner. The warehouse was a communal store for the food visitors brought for their interned relatives or friends. The warehouse manager position was highly sought-after.

One time I was on my way to get my share of powder from the store when the cell head asked to speak to me.
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