We were all out of our minds, but we moved the dead bodies of Lee Young Il and Kang Il Ho to the morgue nevertheless. Security put the wounded Visiting Head, Chores Section Head and the other four Chores Section members in solitary confinement. That is why just two cell heads, Yang Myung Hak and I had to take charge of cleaning up the Chores Section cell. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t get rid of the blood stains on the floor. Four of us cleaned up the cell until 6 in the morning, but the stain never came off.
The Vice-warden, the Security Department Head and two investigators came to work at the prison before breakfast. The Security Department Head ordered the four of us to keep our mouths shut about the incident. Also, he said that since all prisoners had to stop work and remain in their cells, the four of us would have to take charge of distributing meals.
Interviews with the Chores Section members in solitary started immediately. At 12 noon when the interviews were all over, we could go to the shower and wash. That’s when I found out what really happened. It had started from something very small, but it showed us the reality of life in prison.
Kang Il Ho was the one who started the whole thing. Kang and the Visiting Head used their close relationship with the Chores Section head to working the section members hard. For instance they even ordered the Chores Section to do their laundry. Most of the members, of course, did the laundry and even gave them massages every night in the hope of receiving one more scoop of rice. But Lee was different from other Chores Section members.
28-year-old Kang Il Ho was a cold-hearted person, and he never liked Lee, who wouldn’t do what he wanted. Kang was always threatening and cursing him. Later he even started beating him up. However, Lee defied Kang regardless, so Kang would usually get tired and quit.
That night, Kang started to pick on Lee before dinnertime. But it was not enough for Kang; he even kicked Lee’s head while he was eating. Normally Lee would look Kang straight in the eyes and didn’t even try to avoid his fists. However that night, he stood and went out of the cell without a word.
The Chores Section Head told Kang to cut it out, and Kang agreed. But Lee’s anger was just about to explode.
I think the introverted, quiet Lee Young Il decided then to take a revenge on Kang. He couldn’t hold back his anger, and probably that was why he came to me and asked for a cigarette. But I couldn’t give him what he wanted. I assume Lee had already made the decision when he said goodbye to me. Later I deeply regretted not giving him a cigarette.
If I had given him that last cigarette, maybe it would have calmed him down a little bit. The nicotine could have soothed his feelings and prevented him from doing such an extreme thing.
The Visiting Head didn’t use violence like Kang, but he sometimes he cursed Lee. For that, Lee left a 7cm scar on his neck. The blood from Kang’s neck probably encouraged Lee and caused him to take revenge on the Visiting Head too. Fortunately the Visiting Head’s artery didn’t get cut, so he survived.
After this incident all the razors and scissors in the prison were confiscated. A tradition of released prisoners getting a haircut and a shave from the Chores Section was banned. The incident still comes across my mind once in a while.
When I was newly admitted, I also thought of killing myself because of the violence and abuse. I wanted to kill the beasts that kept beating me up and then kill myself too. However, thinking about the pain my mother would have to go through were I to die allowed me to overcome it. If it weren’t for my mother I would have chosen an easy death too.
I am not the only one who thought that way. All the prisoners at Jeongeu-ri Prison would think like me. If Lee had thought of his parents and siblings first, he wouldn’t have chosen to die like that.
Kang and Lee ended their lives as enemies. If they had met each other at some kind of company or on a farm, they might have cared for each other like brothers. But, instead, they were burned up in Mt. Bulmang together as sworn enemies. I hope their souls were able to make it to heaven.