Prisoners’ Sheds in the Detention Settlement
Ahn Myung Chul
Mr. Ahn Myung Chul was born in North Korean in 1969. He had just graduated form Agriculture College at his home town of Hongwon when he joined the North Korean army in July 1987 as a detention settlement guard.
He was assigned to life detention settlements No. 11, 12, 22 and 26 between 1987 and 1994.
He defected from his duty post at the settlement No. 22 in September 1994 and crossed the Korea-China border. He arrived safely in South Korea on 13 October 1994. He describes his experience and observations of the settlements in his book, “They Are Crying for Help,” published in Korean language in Seoul in 1995. He describes some of this own observations and knowledge in the following pages through drawings some of which appear in his book.
Presently, an agricultural officer in South Korea.
In august 1987, we arrived at Life Detention Settlement No, 13 as newly recruited guards. When we saw the prisoners’ villages for the first time, all of us were very surprised and said to each other, “Hey, look, they must be the South Korean beggar villages that we used to watch on North Korean TV! They are worse than cow barns or pig sties, aren’t they?” One of us asked the commanding officer, Lt. Shim, “What are those sheds for?” Lt. Shim replied, “They are for political prisoners. Don’t you see that the sheds are still too good for them? They should be grateful for the fact that they are still alive and that they are given a shelter. Aren’t we generous?”
The shelters were made of clay walls with a thatched roof and needed additional support from logs to prevent them from collapsing. The sheds were so miserable that it was difficult to distinguish the entrance from the windows. They were just like animal pens.
The prisoners’ sheds are called “harmonicas” because of their tiny rooms – one of each family – which resemble the cells in a harmonica. There is a small window on the chimney side. Each compartment is 3×4 meters wide including a separate space for cooking.