Fate of a Young Girl

[imText1]Han Jin Dok was brought to Detention Settlement No. 22 when she was only seven years old. When I met her for the first time in the summer of 1991, she was a pretty 26-year-old girl who worked with plaster in the tunnels. She was different from the other prisoners because she tried to maintain human dignity and smile at others, a very rare quality among prisoners.

I got to know her a little when I was in charge of the pigs. One day, she was severely beaten, gang raped, and tortured as punishment for engaging in sexual activity with a guard. She was then sent to a hard labor camp in a coal mine at Unit 43 in the Kulsan sector, where her legs were severed in a trolley accident.

During the summer of 1991, I was playing my guitar one day, singing a South Korean song in my office during lunch time. When I stopped playing for a moment, I found Han Jin Dok running away from my window. Obviously, she had been listening to my music. When I stopped her, she came to me bowing deeply, a requirement of prisoners in front of officers and guards. I felt bad that she was so terrified by me.

I asked her, “You heard the music, right?” She replied, “Yes, Sir, I am sorry.” I said. “Just don’t tell the others. OK, now you can go.” But she did not go away and hesitated for a moment. She finally said, “Sir, please teach me the beautiful song.” I told her no, knowing the danger it could entail. She said, “Sir, the prisoners are all so grateful to you for your help and kindness to us. I know what it means to you and me. I will not endanger you under any circumstance. We are not beasts. We remember your kindness. Please teach me the song.” I was fully aware of the risk involved, the possibility of being dismissed from the service with severe punishment. But I remembered that the prisoners here had never betrayed my confidence in them. So, I gave her the song words and allowed her to listen to my music outside my office. That is how I first came to know her.

Her father was an veterinarian in Anmyong district, Kangwon Province, North Korea. Her uncle was an army colonel when he was purged along with the Defense Minister in 1973. She was only 7 years old when security officers broke into her house at night and brought the whole family here. Her father disappeared when he was ordered to join a group of strong prisoners for special work. She did not have proper clothing and was always hungry. When she told me about herself through tears, I felt as though she could be my elder sister. Since then, I secretly helped her whenever I could.

A few weeks after my reassignment from the pig farm to another task later in the year, I heard one day that she was arrested for sexual relations with a guard. I was very worried that under torture she might reveal her personal relationsip to me. Many weeks passed and nothing happened to me; she, indeed, kept her promise. But I thought that she might have been killed.

Therefore, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her walking one day in March the following year, 1993, while I was driving to my headquarters. She was an entirely different person, so wretched, all bone and skin. She was happy to see me, and her face contorted when she tried to smile.

I shouted at her, “I can’t believe it. You are still alive! What happened to you?” She replied, “I should have died rather than live this miserable life here. I was severely tortured and gang raped by officers. I am no longer a woman now. They spared my life because I was their informant. Look at this!” She unbuttoned her shirt and showed me her beasts, full of wounds and pus. It was so shocking, and her breasts were stinking with wounds. “They burned my breasts. The wounds will never heal! I am now a punished miner which means that I get reduced meals and stay underground for 24 hours. I have been working there for three months now. They thought I might die any minute now so they allowed me to walk to the clinic.”

“I am terribly sorry about what happened to you. I will get some medicine for you. I am sorry we can’t talk like this any more. We must be going.” I was crying deeply in my heart as I left her. She said, “Sir, I’ll never forget your kindness. Thank you and good-bye.”

I got some antibiotic ointment and tried to find her but she had disappeared. In October 1993, about a year later, I was surprised to find her among a group of old and crippled women at the corn farm.

I asked her, “Where were you? What happened to your legs?” “I had my legs severed in a trolley accident in the mine,” she replied. “When?” I asked her. “Three days after I met you last.” I could not ask her any more questions because I did not want to hurt her by reminding her of the tragic memories.

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