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Prison Tales

The Struggle to Improve Prison Life

Lee Jun Ha's Prison Tales 15.
 |  2009-07-21 10:20
So Yang Myung Hak gave me three scoops of rice!

Give it to the weakest people there, okay? he added.
Sure, I said, before instructing the prisoner with the spatula, Give it to Hyun Chul, Yong Su, and Gwang Ho.

The three of them were only too glad to receive the rice, of course, but everybody else frowned, staring discontentedly.

The cell head was impressed; he thought it was admirable of me to give the extra rice to the weakest people. Both of us were starved as well, after all. I was satisfied with what I had done. Hours later, I was still grateful to Myung Hak for trusting me with those three scoops of rice.

There had been times when some catering prisoners had to be moved to other work sections because they were giving hometown friends extra rations. Under such circumstances, it was not easy for him to trust me.

If the cell head and I had eaten those three scoops of rice, the management would have found out about it. However, because I gave it to the weak, nothing bad happened. Having risked my life to steal tobacco and then used it to fill weak, empty stomachs, the prisoners finally recognized me as their foreman.

I continued to find various means to feed my Logging Section members, and eventually everyone started to like and support me. I became their foreman naturally. People would quarrel during work, but a single word from me and they stopped arguing and did as I asked. Whenever I had to shovel, everyone wanted to help me do it.

Thereafter, with everyone respecting and supporting me, I couldnt just stand there and do nothing. I racked my brain to find ways to feed my members and improve their lives.

I did not want other people to think that I cared only about my own section either, so I had to be well acquainted with people from other sections. I intentionally forged relationships with other foremen. It was quite difficult, because I had to find out each of their individual characters and abilities.

It was difficult to investigate those various sides, utilize what I had found out and keep my pride at the same time. Unlike simple members, who only thought of eating amidst the agony of hunger, I had to do more. I had a duty to feed them. Even though I was hungry, I had to smile. Even when I was exhausted and wanted to sleep, I had to keep thinking.

As a result, I came to be acquainted with good guys like Lee Chul the head handyman, Kim Seo Il the food storage manager, Ma Il from the section for comparatively weak inmates, Woodwork Section head Kim Hyuk Chul, Woodwork Section team leader Choi Kwang Hyuk and Jang Song Shik the vehicle maintenance head. I also became a recognized foreman among the prisoners.

Among them, Kim Young Soo and the aforementioned Myung Hak were two of my best mates. Members of Logging Section never told anyone else about what I had done, so these two people could visit me and smoke in the bathroom freely.

In addition, our section had Kim Jae Kwan, who was good with a needle, and Kwak Man Ho, a real comedian, so people from other sections envied us. The gloves that Kim produced were as good as the ones manufactured in factories, so not only the cell heads but also the security officials asked me about them about a million times. Thanks to Kwaks outstanding wit, other cell heads gathered in our section during break times to listen to him.

Even though who was required to control prisoners behavior, did not say anything about the Logging Section. They even told us when inspections were supposed to take place, so our section became the place where people would hang out.

That way, it was not hard for me to contact foremen from other sections, and in about six months I had built relationships with caterers and foreman from the 2nd, 5th and 4th branches, and eventually created one of the largest personal networks.

With corn flour I had earned from business with Kim Young Soo and Myung Hak, I fed the members of Logging Section once a week and changed the old axes for new ones.

With better axes, it was much easier to work. Logging Section prisoners tended to look better than other prisoners because they were fed corn porridge at least once a week. Things were definitely better than before.

However, the saddest thing was that right after taking care of one group with malnutrition; another group would start to suffer with it. Malnutrition could never be eliminated.

And that was roughly the limit of my abilities.
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