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Prison Tales

The North Korean Prison Zoo

Lee Jun Ha's Prison Tales 23.
 |  2009-08-26 13:50
Kang Woon Ho. This innocent man died at the age of 33, leaving his mother and wife behind in Musan. He belonged to the 5th section of the 2nd branch, and had no relationship with me whatsoever. However, I know every single detail of his death.

It was one Sunday in June, 2003. Political lectures, which started at 10 in the morning, had finished by noon. After listening to a tedious and unnecessarily lengthy diatribe, I thought everyone was going back to their cells, but the moderator declared the need for an Ideological Criticism Meeting about a medic called Lee Hak Mo. Everyone in the assembly hall wanted to know what was going on, and even those who had dozed off during the lecture came to.

Lee was brought into the hall by the Security Department secretary, who loudly declared, Everyone Listen up! Hes the one who beat Kang Woon Ho to death!

Everyone was startled to hear this. Lee was known to all as a highly skilled medic. Lee beating a person to death? I was shocked.

Everybody be quiet! The secretary was yelling. Kang, he continued, was admitted to 2nd ward because he was not eating. Then this son of a bitch told him to stop pretending to be sick so he could be released on sick bail. He forcefully opened Kangs mouth, shoved rice into it and even stepped on his stomach. An hour ago, Kang died. Its all because of him!

The secretary hit Lee in the face. Even while getting beaten, Lee had his head bowed and a mortified look on his face.

I expected that he would be sent to a tough assignment; perhaps a mine. However, oddly, he was released from solitary confinement after just 3 days and returned to his former position in the clinic. Only then was the truth behind the incident revealed, for the day after he was released he came to my section resting place to ask for some cold medicine. His face was full of worry and grief, so I took him to a quiet warehouse and gave him a cigarette. After a while he began to open up.

Jun Ha, do you really think I beat Kang to death?
What happened?

Lee didnt answer for a while

The truth is, it wasnt me. It was Jeong Hak who killed him.
Jeong Hak was a medical officer in the clinic.
What do you mean? I asked.

You see, Kang was bribing Jeong to get released on sick bail. Apparently, Kangs brother runs his own business and it seems that he is quite rich. Anyway, Jeong promised Kang sick release after receiving the money, but had to take action after Kang started telling everyone about the deal. One day Jeong came to me, looking less than amused. He asked me if I knew Kang was going to be released on sick bail. So I asked him, Sir, what are you talking about? and he said Hmm, I guess he didnt tell you yet. That son of a bitch, I cant spare him, thanks to his thoughtless behavior! Then he told me not to feed Kang, and said hed kill me if Kang so much as saw a scoop of rice.

Lee sighed deeply, but eventually started speaking again.

Jun Ha, you know what kind of person Jeong is. Who could possibly go against him? So I did not give Kang anything to eat. But it caused the fool to assume that he was going to be released in a day or two. How could he bear it when he was suffering from malnutrition? So on the third day, he just passed out. I was really desperate, so I fed him some rice and did whatever I could to bring him around. Then Jeong, who had heard about Kang passing out, called me into his office. He scolded me, urging me not to feed the patient until he told me to. When I got back to the clinic, Kang was already dead. Then Jeong claimed that I did not follow his orders, which killed Kang. He blamed me for everything. How could it be a sin to feed a starving person?

Lee had told me everything about what really happened, but of course others still looked at him with cold eyes. Although the security staff knew the truth pretty quickly, the prisoners criticized him for quite a long time. They heard nothing about Lees story and thought he had managed to maintain his position with barely any punishment even though he starved a prisoner to death. It took almost six months for the truth to come out.

Meanwhile, Jeong was an ordinary 32-year old living in Hoiryeong. He starved a person to death without a second thought, just to save his reputation. Does this guy have even the slightest humanity at all? You see, Im sure he does. Every human being is born with a kind and beautiful heart. He must have been kind and innocent when he was young. He must have been an attentive father to his children. How can he not feel even small pangs of guilt?

The truth is, North Korean prisons are nothing more than dehumanizing zoos. A person can starve another person, and then laugh it off. Born as a human being, it is heartbreaking to die in a natural disaster, labor accident or of disease, but it is even worse to starve to death as part of another persons petty scheming. Of course, anyone can see that if Kang had kept quiet, he could have returned home safely. Nevertheless, the true nature of this incident was in the corrupt attitude of the prison staff; people like Kang should never have died at all.
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