Prisoners’ Sheds in the Detention Settlement

In august 1987, we arrived at Life Detention Settlement No, 13 as newly recruited guards. When we saw the prisoners’ villages for the first time, all of us were very surprised and said to each other, “Hey, look, they must be the South Korean beggar villages that we used to watch on North Korean TV! They are worse than cow barns or pig sties, aren’t they?” One of us asked the commanding officer, Lt. Shim, “What are those sheds for?” Lt. Shim replied, “They are for political prisoners. Don’t you see that the sheds are still too good for them? They should be grateful for the fact that they are still alive and that they are given a shelter. Aren’t we generous?”

The shelters were made of clay walls with a thatched roof and needed additional support from logs to prevent them from collapsing. The sheds were so miserable that it was difficult to distinguish the entrance from the windows. They were just like animal pens.

The prisoners’ sheds are called “harmonicas” because of their tiny rooms – one of each family – which resemble the cells in a harmonica. There is a small window on the chimney side. Each compartment is 3×4 meters wide including a separate space for cooking.

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