Newcomer’s Hardships

On my 20th day in the camp, the interview finally began. I had heard that the Security Department Secretary was looking for me, so I went there, since it couldn’t be avoided anyway, bowed and kneeled. After a few questions just for the sake of asking, the secretary got to the point,

“Jun Ha. From now on, you have to closely watch the movements of all the prisoners, and even the security officials, and then report them to me. Especially the guards who look after your section. Don’t miss a single thing out, remember everything about them. When I look for you, report back.”

I felt that I’d rather die than snitch on other people’s business to him, but I could not say “no” either. I was lost for words.

“You can do it, right? So why aren’t you answering me?”
“Sir, I’m still young and a newcomer. I don’t know much about the situation here and I don’t want to watch what other people are doing….”
“Enough! I get it. Get out now!”

He cut me off. As I retreated from his office, I took a glance at him. He was glaring at me intensely. I was anxious, but on the other hand I was relieved.

However, such insubordination doesn’t come without a price. I swiftly found myself paying the price in the Logging Section, which was notorious for the severity of its labor. Even the security official in charge of the Section was more violent and more ferocious than most. This was the place where the number of people dying from malnutrition was at its largest.

A guard took me there after dinner.

“This is Jun Ha. Take good care of him,” he said as he retreated from the room.

The Section head, another prisoner, smirked, as though he already knew me well. Back then I was the only 19 year-old prisoner, so maybe he did. He asked me what my charge was; it was the same as his. If there were any problem, he said, I could always ask for his help. Thinking that I had met a good supervisor, I was relieved.

The next day, we were waiting for the security official in charge to come so that we could head out of the prison and work. Instead a tall, young security official appeared in front of us.

“Newcomers, take 3 steps forward.”

Two newly transferred prisoners and I stepped forward. I was nervous, trying to figure out how I could answer when they asked me something. A heavy silence hung over us. As I was bowing my head, I took a glance at the security official.

Instantly I felt that fierce glare burning into me, and I quickly looked down once more.

“Hey, you! Come here!”

“Jun Ha, he wants to talk to you. Kneel in front of him and report,” the Section head said hesitantly. I soon knew why, for as soon as I kneeled in front of him, I felt combat boots hitting my face. I was hit and kicked for quite a long time, but I didn’t even scream. Instead, I shut up and took it. It was the only way. After quite a while, he finally started to speak. He was outraged.

“You, little brat! How dare you stare at the teacher’s face?”

I was dumbfounded, but had no choice but to apologize. Then he ordered the Logging Section head, “Let him take the night shift as punishment!”

In the Reeducation Camp, each cell had a night shift every day. two people form one group. One person stands in front of the surveillance window while the other watches the prisoners, sitting down. A total of eight people divide into four groups and take the shift for two hours each per group.

The purpose of the night shift was to prevent prisoners from running away by breaking the toilet or the window. Prisoners on night shift also had to report the number of people in the cell when the prison management came round. And I? I had to do it all night just because I stared at the executive’s face.

People who had been previously scheduled to do the night shift were very glad, joking, “Thanks to Jun Ha, we can have a good sleep.”

I thought about it while working, but I still could not understand the reason why the security official gave me such a harsh punishment. When the next day came, I was exhausted since I had been awake over night, but nevertheless I ate my breakfast and went on to work.

“Newcomers! Listen! By hook or by crook, each of you has to provide your own axe and chains within one week, no matter what.”

These were the words of the Section head. He meant that we should get prepared for work on the mountain by doing chores in the rest room. I had never done this kind of labor before I came to prison, so I was very afraid of it.

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