Following the other inmates I bent my knees, placed my hands on my back and put my head on the floor. The inspection started from cell number one.
“Sir, cell one cleaning and arrangement is finished. May we sit up?”
Each room was checked in exactly the same way. And just the same, as each cell from No. 1 though 10 was checked instruction came down from block guards to sit. The inmates of the detention center have to sit cross-legged with a hand on each knee, head down at 90 degrees and cannot move.
Everyone rises at 6 in the morning and sits until 8 at which time breakfast begins. Detention center guards drag a small cart of dishes of rice to the front of each cell and as they pass yell, “prepare to eat!” Then the inmates move from two rows and sit with their backs against each wall facing each other.
Once “Sir, cell one is prepared to eat!” is reported for cells one through ten the detention center guards begin to divvy out the rice. The person closest to the bars reports that his cell has 12 and soup bowls are passed though a little food hole in the door.
First rice is given then soup. Then the person who received rice has to quickly return his soup bowl through the little hole to receive some soup. The guards divvy the soup with one hand, often using the other to smoke. So some bowls have little soup while others are filled to the brim. Sometimes the inmate’s hands get scalded when the soup in their bowl spills over.
When I first saw the soup bowl that was given to me, I thought I was going to feel sick. The watery soup was served in a dirty plastic bowl with a single radish leaf floating about. The person next to me didn’t even have the piece of radish.
When the guards gave the word, the inmates added their bowls of rice (which was usually undercooked) to the soup and drank it down in frenzy. By that time, I hadn’t eaten anything for two days. Instinctively, I opened my mouth and stuffed the food in.
In the detention room, the act of sitting itself is a kind of torture and punishment. According to regulation we had to sit with our hands on our knees and our heads bowed. Sitting like this continuously was very painful for the neck and butt and made the waist feel like it was going to bust under the strain.
If we shifted from this position even a little, the guard, who was always standing at the front of the cell door would tell us to come forward, stick our hands through the bars, and would then beat the back of the hand with the butt of a revolver.
People that had been in the center for a while were more keen on this prison drill and had learned to move their necks and swivel their hips without being detected by the guards.
During my first week in the detention house, I got called forward and had my hand beat two or three times per day. There were three guards in particular that had it out for me—Lee Jong Su, Cheol Min, and Sung Hyuk. No matter how careful I was not to move, these three always found a reason to fault me for moving.
Whenever one of them was standing watching, I always took a revolver blow to the hand and head or was punished by having to endure an hour with head on the ground and hands on my back. (to be continued)