I have been watching the author and journalist, Blaine Harden, talk about Escape from Camp 14, one man's odyssey from North Korea to the West on C-SPAN. This is one of the most horrifying, yet fascinating interviews I have ever heard. The book is about the escape of a 23 year old North Korean, named Shin, from the prison camp where he was born. The details of his life in that camp were chilling. He barely knew his parents, who were rewarded with being allowed to be together as prisoners in the camp and so he was born. The book is the story of his life in the camp and his eventual escape, which was quite horrifying and 'lucky' at the same time. Until a few months before his attempt, he learned about the outside world and what induced him to escape was hearing that in the world outside, in China, people could eat all the food that they wanted.
At the age of 13 he was viciously tortured by guards after had obeyed the rules and told them of the plans he had overheard his mother and brother make to escape. Later he was taken to watch them both executed. Execution was the only time people in the camp gathered in crowds, there were thousands of them. The camp was/is surrounded by barbed wire and electric voltage that is meant to kill you if you so much as touch it. He met a man, Park, who he was supposed to be spying on, who had seen the world and given him the word that there was another world and another way to live. Shin had no idea that the world was even round or that there was even a South Korea or a United States. But he was smart and he was cunning.
Two months after hearing about plentiful food on the outside he convinced his 'teacher' to try to escape with him. They ran to the fence and when the Park was trying to get through the wire he inadvertently touched it and was killed. He fell on the wire and Shin crawled over his body to the outside world and freedom, managing to burn his legs badly as he went. He still had 300 miles before he could get to the Chinese borders, but that was the 'easy' part of the story.
It took the author many months before he was able to convince Shin, who by that time was in South Korea, to agree to tell the story. This is the first time that anyone is known to have successfully escaped from this prison camp and there were many groups that thought it was important that his story be told. Part of the agreement for telling his story is that he will receive 50% of the money the book makes. Shin, who is 29, the same age as my youngest son, has been taken in by another Korean family and is now living in the United States. He has learned not to be so wary of people as he was, but still has language limitations and is also working through emotional problems as a result of observing 'normal' family life in his new world. I plan to buy a copy of the book.
My dear daughter-in-law is South Korean. Her father escaped from the north and made a completely new life for himself in the South. She told me that when her father escaped he left behind a wife and several children. He would never know what happened to them or their children. But it is known that it was normal punishment for families of escapees to end up in this prison camp. It all makes me feel incredibly sad for this dark hole in the world and the people trapped inside.