Even though this man escaped from a North Korean Labor Camp, a lifetime of brutal memories haunted him daily…
And that’s probably the understatement of the century, as Shin Dong-hyuk went through horrors that most people couldn’t even imagine. The infamous ‘Camp 14,’ where he spent many long years, was a dark place from which Dong-hyuak thought he would never leave. Until one fateful day…
This is just one of the many watch towers that were a daily sight for captives like Dong-hyuk, who could only dream of making it out of this hell hole.
Bird’s Eye View
This image, taken from Google Maps, shows the location of the camp in North Korea, and how hard strategically it would be to escape from it.
The prison camp was built in the 1950s, and is located on the middle of the communist state, close to the South Pyongan Province city of Kaech’ŏn. To date, there are still reportedly 15,000 people living there.
The make the camp even more ominous, it is located surrounded by tall mountains, making escape almost impossible. The camp is predominantly composed of mines, factories and farms, while men, women and children are forced to live at extremely close quarters with one another.
If you don’t agree 100% with the authorities in North Korea, and get found out, you simply get thrown into a camp like camp 14, and the key gets more or less thrown away.
As a camp for political prisoners, people there are put to work from day till night, inside mines and working on farms. The people there are treated like slaves and often work 18 hour days.
North Korea doesn’t respect human rights, and that extends even to children. It is reported that kids as young as 11 years old are put to work on the camp.
Despite the fact that the North Koreans deny there is even such thing as Camp 14, Google Maps proves that the regime are lying, as they impose their “three generation punishments on their citizens.
Born In Slavery
Like so many other innocent kids, Dong-hyuk was born in Camp 14, and knew no other life at all. All he knew since he was born was how to be a slave, and nothing else.
While women getting pregnant is strictly prohibited at Camp 14, Dong-hyuk’s mom was allowed to keep the baby, as long as she agreed to raise him on the camp.
The North Korean authorities even pit prisoners in their camps against each other, to fight for meagre rations and basic items. Snitches are rewarded with fewer beatings than they had the day before.
The North Korean camps are so harsh that many inmates just simply perish from malnutrition as food is so hard to come by at the camp. Many inmates are forced to keep themselves alive by eating frogs rats and even snakes!
Obviously, people living in such circumstances will often try to forge an escape plan for them and their family, even if it seems impossible, risky and against the odds. Dong-hyuk heard his mother and brother planning an escape, and this made him smile.
Apparently Dong-hyuk knew no better, and immediately told a night guard of his mother and brother’s escape plan. They were put in trial and he was moved to Camp 18, having been locked up himself for 7 long months. When he was released, he was forced to watch his brother and mother’s public execution.
Following that ordeal, Dong-hyuk tried to escape camp 18, once in 1999 and once in 2001. He was caught and punished with four days of torture. In that instance he was hoisted above burning coals, leaving permanent scars on his lower back.
Dong-hyuk decided that life in camp wasn’t for him and he simply wanted to get out, even though he didn’t know anything about life on the outside. He then decided he would try once again to escape.
Escape To Freedom
It was an average day in January 2005 when Dong-hyuk decided to escape. He did so with another man, although that man was instantly killed when he made contact with the high-voltage electric fence.
Having not been killed by the electric fence, Dong-hyuk saw that he might make it to freedom. He sustained these injuries on his legs, after running for more than a mile. He found a discarded military uniform, put it on and disguised himself as a high-ranking official.
Just a few weeks later, and a journalist found Dong-hyuk working in Shanghai. He was taken to the South Korean embassy, and is now living in South Korea, working for human rights.
Working For People
Dong-hyuk’s story is a tragic but compelling one. He now works tirelessly to bring the plight of people in North Korean internment camps to the world, in the hope that those poor people will also be released and find some semblance of normality in their lives.
[Featured image credit: CHOO YOUN-KONG / Staff @ Getty Images & JenWontShutUp @ Imgur]