The physical appearance of typical prisoners

When I first arrived at the detention settlement in November 1987, as young boy of 18, I was shocked to see prisoners in such miserable shape. Most of them were o poorly dressed, their clothes all patched-up. They covered their whole face with dirty rags revealing only their twinkling eyes. They were so short, like children compared to the settlement officers. Through dirty and worn-out pieces of cloth, I could see their dirty faces, all skin and bone. None of them walked normally. Many of them walked with their knees bent and their backs crouched over. When they saw me, they gave me sympathetic eyes and said, “look! That poor boy is now a dead man!”

They were not walking, they simply moved forward by shaking heir bodies. They put on all kinds of dirty pieces of rags to keep them warm even during the summer. They carry a spoon around their neck and an empty can by their side. Some of them had their arms or legs broken as a result of severe beatings by security officers. Child prisoners almost always have big stomachs and bulging eyes, a very strange sight. Beating prisoners for nothing is a standard practice here. When the prisoners work collectively, they look more like animals rather than people.

Nevertheless, they were forced to meet their daily work quotas as long as they were alive, whether sick, crippled or disabled. They had to work from five o’clock in the morning until 8 o’clock in the evening. Failure to meet the quota or minor violations of rules could lead to reduction or is continuation of food ration. Therefore, as long as they could breathe, they had to work for survival. Wherever the prisoners were, you could always ear the angry voices of security officers and the screaming of prisoners.

Ahn Hyok

Mr. Ahn Hyok was a prisoner at the Primary detention settlement.
He was born in North Korea in 1968 and was a student when he surrendered to the national security authorities in 1986 for his brief illegal travel to China at the age of 18. His travel was out of curiosity. He was detained in the National Security secret cell in Maram for almost 2 years for repeated interrogation and torture and then in Yodok detention settlement (concentration camp) for about 16 months. After his release from the detention settlement in February, 1982, he met Kang Chul Hwan who was also detained in the same settlement for ten years before him. He defected to South Korea in 1992 with Kang Chul Hwan. He finished university education in Seoul.
Co-founder of Democracy Network against North Korea Gulag, an Ngo organized by North Korean defectors.
He co-authored, “The Festival of a Great King,” with Kang Chul Hwan. He wrote another book “Yodok List” in July, 1995, about his experience in the above detention settlement and inform the world of the murderous treatment of prisoners in North Korea.