Born in a poor family in Nammun-ri of Hamgyeong-do Province, I graduated Godeung Gyeonggongeop hackyo, a vocational school for the light industry. After school, I worked as a propaganda promoter, having my name on the list of many factories. I propagated the policies from the Workers’ Party of North Korea to all members of the society. Shouting out the slogan, “If the party decides, we follow,” it was my job to encourage all the workers of the industry to finish their duties on time with my “songs.” On the thirteenth Rally in 1989, I developed a feeling of hostility against North Korean party officers of their improper conducts. However, we were not allowed to point out their wrongdoings as we had to worship party officers. Reversely, if we didn’t abide their rules, we were harshly punished in reality. On the same year, I divorced my husband who did not take care of the family.
From then on, I was in despair, failing to get any job. Therefore, I had to start a business to earn a living by selling my blood for startup money. On December 25th, the winter solstice day, friends from Hamju, Hamgeongnam-do Province, invited me over to cheer me up. There were a total of five people. Three friends and a palm reader that night. We were singing and dancing. I delightfully sang the South Korean song “Don’t Cry, Hongdo,” relieving stress. I got to know the song after I saw a female singer singing it in the fifth sequel, of the movie “Nation and Destiny.” The setting of the movie was the time of the Park,
Jung-Hee regime (1961-1979) of South Korea.
On May 15, 1993, I was held in a holding cell without any explanation. The head of the Security Administration Inspection of Hamju, Hamgeongnam-do Province called my name and I followed him. They led me to a building of the security administration, and locked me up without any explanations. The time at a prison cell was terrible. I could not stand up for a month as they brutally battered me. I was sentenced for three years to a prison of the Security administration in Hamju. Charged for propagating negative influences based on nonconforming to the society rather than worshiping Kim, Il-Sung and Kim, Jung-Il. Back then the Declaration of the Social Order was announced regarding several violations. They were about seeking a fortune telling regarding the social order; singing foreign songs; eating without working; drinking; committing fraud; and more. If one were to be charged with one of the violations, he or she would be punished ruthlessly, and in times they were even executed.
The other four members, who were together on the solstice day, were sent to do forced labor for eight months. I, who got the heaviest charge for teaching them “Don’t Cry, Hongdo”, were locked up at the security administration in Meongchun, Hamgeongnam-do Province after being held in Hamju for fifteen days. I was tortured and sexually violated beyond words. The prison guards there were around 22 to 24 years. As I was in despair being locked up, I even thought it would be better to commit suicide. Thus, I ate cement pieces, garbage under the wooden floor of prison, and even hair but I wasn’t able to stop my life.
Afterwards, the guards increased the level of surveillance almost suffocating me. I was once again sent to a security administration in Hwaseong under scrutiny. Although the preliminary hearing ruled that I did not have to be charged and punished, judges named random charges to me. I was punished that much with my minor charges. It was hard to imagine what happened to offenders with more severe crimes. We were supposed to get 700g of rice a day in prison. However the executives justified themselves to reduce the amount of meal for a conservational reason providing only 180g a day. Moreover, the class of prisoners were divided. At first, I was put into a newcomer cell before a reformer one later. There I was given 100g of rice and salted cabbage per meal. It felt terribly delicious as I was suffering from malnutrition.
People were to work between 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. by law, but we had to work 22 hours a day, as busy miscellaneous work was left for prisoners to do. Moreover, male security guards sexually violated us unhesitatingly under the excuse of a private consultation session. Every day after work, we had to criticize each other at Seangwhal Chongwha, a review meeting of life, where the workers were forced to report other prisoner’s flaws. We had no choice but to criticize each other because they gave us only a small amount of meal if we did not. This made us criticize each other with all sorts of minor things.
I was released in September, 1995, on clemency of the leader. However, it was hard to live in society as people discriminated against me for being imprisoned. I could not get a job. Then my beloved husband and son fortunately asked me to make up. We forgave each other for everything. Under the economic crisis in North Korea and a negative image as an ex-prisoner, I had no choice, but to sell blood in order to sustain again. I sold blood a number of times, and walked 50 to 60 miles a day to run a business with the family. But my husband ran away from my son again with all the money.
I decided to run to China in order to go to South Korea after that. In early September, 1998, I rode a train to the Tumen River by the border to China from Hamju, Hamgeongnam-do Province, to Musan, Hamgeongbuk-do Province with only 1,000 Won. Musan is near the border so they checked ID every time. Therefore, I stayed at a restaurant during daytime and a private lodging at night. Then, I gave a border patrol food and 200 won with a promise to give him extra after I came back from my business in China in order to cross the border. He trusted my words and allowed me to pass. Finally, I was able to reach China at around 3:30 P.M.
As North Korean soldiers were also suffering from extreme poverty, they would do anything if people offered them money. They had a fixed idea that they had to have at least
650,000 won in order to sustain their lives after they were discharged so they were willing to do anything to earn extra money regardless of the military regulations. Making use of this situation, I was able to escape to China. I hid in a mountain until it became dark until I found a village and asked an ethnic Korean family living in China to help me with a night’s lodging. But they rejected me. Therefore, I had to stay up at a hut eating unripe fruits in an orchard.
On the next day, however, I was caught by the owner of the orchard and had to work for him over a few days because of eating his fruits. However, at around 3 P.M., a car drove into the trees where I was working without even ringing its horn. I hid near a hot pepper field but they found and kidnapped me. At first, I thought it was the soldiers of DPRK, but when I woke up, I was at Longjing-si of Jilin Province. Another woman and I were locked up at a widower’s house. The next day, the woman was sold somewhere else, and I was sexually violated by the widower for a number of days. Although I wanted to fight him, I had no choice because I could be sent back to North Korea. I stayed at the widower’s house for fifteen days and sought a chance to run away.
After a few days, an ethnic Korean living near me told me that he would send me to his sister’s house near the Amur River. I decided to follow him because of the anxiety of being caught by the North Korean soldiers in Chinese soil. I later realized that the widower had sold me because he was short of money. Eventually, I was sold to a Chinese male living near the Huai River in Huangnihezhen, Dunhwa City, Jilin Province for $600. Jilin Province was a place where border patrolling from the DPRK military was severe, which made me have no choice but to stay in his house. The male looked very weird, only 145cm tall.
When I was at the house, the public security came for investigation so I had to hide in a closet for several hours. As the man was afraid of me running away, he locked the doors including all the entrances. Consequently, I wasn’t able to go out during the day so I even needed to relieve myself inside the house. At night, I was terribly sexually violated by a monster in overwhelming urges. I only lived to run away from this house.
However, he suspected that I wanted to run away so he took me to his work at a brick factory. When the public security came, I had to hide in the men’s bathroom for a few hours, and sometimes in a brick oven chamber where it felt like being cooked. Another time, I also had to hide in a trash dump in the middle of winter or in a locker room for several hours. Additionally, the workers there sexually abused me, treating me like one of the animals in a zoo. They were all disgusting.
Even after a few months, still there was no chance for me to run away. However, with help of an ethnic Korean translator, I was able to go to her sister’s house near Heilongjiang Province by deceiving the Chinese man and taking this opportunity. I followed one of her sister’s friends to a restaurant in Weihai City, Shandong Province. While working there for three months, I was subjected to all kinds of discriminations as I was a North Korean Woman, even being paid the lowest. Because I knew that they could report me to the public security, I decided that I should go to South Korea so I started to save money with six other people. Finally, saving 700 Yuan with the people, we brought oil, a telescope, life jackets, and a compass. Afterwards we went out to a beach at midnight, and stole a boat. But on the way to South Korea, the boat’s dashboard got broken, and water came in. We had to fight deep and high waves. Luckily, we were saved by a fishing boat at dawn. At that time, we had 50 Yuan and a saw in our pants in case of being captured to commit suicide in serious situations.
Afterwards, the six of us continuously got in contact while we’re seeking for a chance to go to South Korea, and a Korean gave us 3,000 Yuan. With the money, we were again able to buy oil, life vests, a compass, and a few loaves of bread. We stole another fishing boat selecting a date carefully considering the weather, and left Weihai City at 12 midnight to South Korea. However, the boat again malfunctioned numerous times on the way. After three days, Chunshil, one of us, and I were very sick with motion sickness.
At that time, we saw two boats coming from the South. Calculating the time, we believed that it was about the time that we would have arrived at South Korea so we held out a white silk to the two boats thinking that they were Korean ships. However, it turned out those were Chinese. Believing that we shouldn’t be caught by the Chinese ship, we tried to run away, but were so tired. We got caught by the Chinese boats and were sent to the Chinese border patrol for 15 days. There, they stole 1,000 Yuan, and we were shackled. We even had to have the shackles on even when we went to the toilet.
I demanded the Chinese guards that we weren’t prisoners yet, so they should take the shackles off, and also threatened them that I would commit suicide if they didn’t take them off. However, they didn’t buy it. Rather they stood right beside me so that I couldn’t do anything. For fifteen days, they interrogated me in shackles on my wrists too. Even though I persistently insisted that I’m South Korean, they didn’t believe me. Around the tenth day in prison, I was in so much pain with bruises all over my chest. Chinese prisoners were able to do whatever they wanted but we were treated like animals. To the two of us, they didn’t give us food for three days saying that there weren’t any left. We weren’t able to use the toilet properly as there was no tissue given.
I was then again locked up in a prison located in Dandong City, China by the border patrols. There were about fifty people and thirty of them were North Koreans. A woman patrol made us jump thirty times and even stuffed her fingers into our uterus for the sake of finding money we hid in our bodies. Anticipating this situation, I swallowed 400 Chinese yuan. After all the inhumane treatments in prison, I was repatriated to the North in early December, 2000 and was locked up at a prison of the State Security Department in Sinuiju City.
The treatments in the prison were extremely inhumane and cruel. We were made to defecate without tissues. Additionally, we had to wash, and wipe the defecates with our hands with only one bowl of water. Nobody was normal but some women were pregnant or had venereal diseases. Pretty women were put in independent rooms where they were sexually assaulted. An uncountable number of prisoners were thrashed and were given 50g of corn, half of it a full of worms. Pregnant women even bit and chewed their fingers because of their craving for food due to pregnancy. Women infected in venereal diseases rubbed their low bottom in salt, ruining their bodies. How could possibly all these inhumane scenes be happening in human society?
Chunshil and I had a particularly harsh charge because we were caught on the way to South Korea while others were seized in China. They locked each of us in different rooms and battered us savagely until my hemorrhoids recurred. Due to the battering and hemorrhoids, I couldn’t sit properly but had to stick my buttocks up into the ceiling, groaning in pain like a mosquito. Twenty days later, I was taken to a bigger prison. After seven weeks there, they started to select people to be released. I was told that I was released by the credit of being the president of the prisoners. However, I later realized that it was all a lie to show that a person who escaped to China could also be released, but were actually planning to arrest me back when I got home.
Realizing the truth, I rode a train to Musan City, North Hamgyong Province limping. I reached Hamhung on January 1, 2001. When I got home, the entire members of my brother’s family were to be dead, and I could not find out whether my son was dead or alive. With extreme sadness, I once again escaped to China at around three o’clock in one afternoon. Luckily, I met a nice ethnic Korean family this time, and could work in their house for seven weeks, and they helped me escape to Weihi City. In Weihi, I worked at a South Korean company, and hid in mountains whenever the police came. Repeating this life, I worked there for three months and left for South East Asia in October, 2001. Over four months, I went through four different countries and could finally reach South Korea on January 14, 2002.
If I were to write about my times at prison and the painful experiences in China, I would have to write more than a thousand pages. However, I would like to wrap up and want to ask for everyone who supports North Korean people’s human rights to help North Koreans escape from this inhumane or stigmatic society, where people are suffering, by revealing the corrupted, inhumane and ugly truth of North Korea to the world. We wish for the attention of the global society. Thank you