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Prison Tales

The Bitter Tears of a Woodcutter

Lee Jun Ha's Prison Tales 11.
 |  2009-06-30 09:57
Around four oclock in the afternoon, the security official who was watching the six of us in the rest room ordered us to go to work. We followed him deep into the mountains. It was so far.

We were forced to run, arriving there some time later. Yet, without a moments break, the officials commanded us to carry a tree back to the camp. There were six trees left there, and we were ordered to transport them all, by hand.

The security official pointed at the thickest tree and told me to carry it. I tried my best to put it on my shoulder, but I just couldnt imagine going all the way back to base with it. After just ten meters, my legs were shaking and my shoulders felt as if they were going to break. I walked quite far, I thought, but I couldnt take it anymore and just collapsed.

Jun Ha, the security official might hit you. Stand up and go on.

I looked back, following the voice and I saw the Section head carrying a much taller tree, without any outward signs of exhaustion. With his help, I put the tree on my shoulders once again, but had soon dropped it once more.

My shoulders were all scraped up and I was almost choking. The security official just hit my head mercilessly.

He swore at me so fiercely but did not stop the hitting either. I had to carry that tree and walk even faster if I didnt want to get hit. Until now, I still cannot understand how I managed to carry that tree and run with it.

Anyway, I arrived at the rest room, still carrying that detestable tree all by myself. I realized that I was crying when I put the tree down. They were tears with no feeling.

So this is what they call bitter tears, I heard myself say.

It was sad. For a person who had grown up with nothing but his mothers love, it was too much to take. Just thinking of the pain I would have to go through in the coming years made me sick. Will I be able to overcome this painful life here in prison? I thought to myself.

After dinner, the Section head called me out. Without understanding the situation, I followed him as he led me to the camp doctor. The doctor looked at him welcomingly.

Please put some medicine on young Jun Has shoulders.

His words made tears come to my eyes.

Haha, you are lucky to have him as your boss.
Do you know Jun Ha?
"How could I not know the Jun Ha who beat the cell head?!"

They both burst into laughter, but I was too tired.

By the time I got into bed, the incidents of the afternoon were running over in my head. Suddenly, I started to wonder why the security official hated me. I just couldnt figure it out.

The next day I was working in the rest room when one prisoner came up to me and said the security official was looking for me. I went to the security officials office and kneeled down.

I see from your documents that youve committed a murder!

He asked me why I killed a person as he skimmed through the file.

Someone borrowed the money my mother saved by selling candies. He refused to pay us back for more than a year, always with a different excuse. So I went to his house to get it back. Instead of paying us back, he tried to hit me just as if it were my fault. So I hit him.

And so?
He was a drunk back then, so he staggered a bit, bumped his head on a wall and hit his forehead on a sharp stone as he fell.
So you hit him just once?
Did he die there right on the spot?
No. I made him stand on his feet and he was all right. He told me that he would pay me back in 10 days, and that I should go home and wait. So I went back. But just 3 hours later he was moved to the hospital and there he died. Frankly it is still hard to believe that I killed him.
Huh, so you mean you are not admitting your offense?
Thats not what I mean.
Dont try to deny it, you son of a bitch! Youre not listening to your teachers because youre not admitting that youve committed a crime!

Looking at the cursing security officials face, I understood what was going on. Everything that was done to me until then was because I did not listen to the Security Department secretary. The cursing continued.

You! I will keep my eyes on you and see whether you admit your offense and try to do your best to be forgiven, or you dont admit it and become lazy and get sick due to the labors you must do! If you truly regret what you have done, youll leave the prison alive. Otherwise, dont even think about getting out alive! Okay?

Go back now,

I said goodbye and went back to the rest room, but as I kept thinking it became even harder to believe. The security official is threatening me upon the Security Department secretarys orders!

He warned me not to think of even getting out alive, let alone encouraging me to wash away my sins and get released anew. Where on earth can you find such a prison!

In any case, from then on I just gritted my teeth and did the labors demanded of me. Chopping and cutting the trees, pruning etc. I did all of these with an ax. Everyone laughed at me, saying that I was still a kid. Whether or not I was good, I always tried to take the initiative and get the job done. Not because I had to cleanse my soul of sin, but because I had to survive. Because only with effort can one see the fruits of ones labors.
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