Twenty Days in Solitary

The secretary called on the general section head, told him to put me in solitary confinement, then headed back to his house. The general section head and the manager of the foodstuffs storehouse helped me to the 2nd Solitary cell.

“I thought he was going to scream his head off and cry, but I only heard single cries.”
“Exactly. Was there ever anyone who didn’t cry like a baby when investigated by the Security Department?”

I couldn’t hear them anymore after they closed the door. I was glad. It wasn’t that big a deal, but I was glad that I hadn’t cried and begged for mercy like other people had.

I went inside the cell and saw that my meal was 5th grade rice. The scoop of rice given to me was about five centimeters wide, but only three centimeters high. It really was a very small amount. I was so exhausted that it was difficult to swallow, but I had to eat it in order to put up with the coming torture. Around two in the afternoon, I was called to the Secretary’s office once again.

“We have a long way to go,” he announced, “So let’s do what we did in the morning.”

I heard his cold words. I sat down with the wooden club behind my knees. My legs were soon paralyzed once more.

“Jun Ha, do you remember me?” he asked.
“Yes, sir.”
“Of course you do. Now, is there anything you regret?”
“Yes, sir.”
“What do you regret?”

I wasn’t able to find an answer to his question and just bowed my head.

“I heard that you received some cigarettes from your section guard.”
“I’ve never done such thing.”

Cigarettes? That was a joke. He only called me Jun Ha when asking me to do him a favor; at all other times he just cursed, using words like son of a bitch. That person gave me cigarettes? It would never happen, not even in my dreams. However, the secretary just kept beating me.

“Are you sure you never took basic necessities and medicine from other prisoners and gave them to officials?”
“No, sir!”
“Are you sure you never gave him firewood personally?”
“No, sir!”
“You didn’t steal potatoes and corn and give it to him last fall?”
“No, Sir!”
“So, do you think you’re doing well here?”
“No, Sir!”
“You smoke, don’t you?”
“Sometimes, yes.”

Whenever I answered he hit me on the head with the club. My forehead was bleeding but I didn’t scream, putting up with the anger and resentment boiling deep inside my mind. I continuously told myself to “fight!” and tried to endure the afternoon of torture.

According to the rules, if someone from a section was put into solitary confinement, the rest of the members had to provide the firewood needed to heat the solitary cell. In the evening my cell head requested the right to put firewood in the solitary cell. The management must have acquiesced, because he came to see me himself, carrying the firewood all the way to the cell with a corn rice cake hidden in a pouch. His eyes welled up when he saw my gruesome appearance.

Not long after he had to head back, I heard each section taking roll call. Prisoners shouting out their given numbers sounded just like a dog barking. When all the shouting had stopped, silence lay across the solitary cell too. I couldn’t help but moan because of the pain. I wanted to stretch out my legs but the solitary cell was only one square meter, so I couldn’t.

The secretary didn’t call me until 11 in the morning. The general section head came to see me in the solitary cell and informed me that the logging head Kim Hyuk Chul, catering head Yang Myung Hak and another four people close to me were being investigated. Among the 6 of them, I was especially close to Kim Hyuk Chul and Yang Myung Hak, and there happened to be lots of secrets that only the three of us knew about each other. I was anxious because it could develop into a much bigger problem than I had expected.

The important thing was that we prisoners didn’t get startled but cooperated with each other, but I was doubtful that they were going to be able to get through the torture. The security official had not been able to find out anything about me from the first torture, so he changed his method right away and started on people close to me. I heard from the general section head, who visited me once a day, that they were going through the same torture I had gone through, but weren’t saying anything unfavorable about me yet.

Every single day, we went through every kind of torture imaginable. The Security department officials put handcuffs on our hands and twisted our arms with clubs. They tied up our arms at the back and hung us up in the air. One time they made us tiptoe for hours, not allowing our heels to touch the ground. Even now, whenever I think about it, it gives me the shivers. 11 o’clock at night was when we were finally released and allowed to go back to our solitary cells. There were times when we ran into each other; whenever we did, we comforted each other with a smile.

They had to go through torture and investigation for seven days. My cellmates had to suffer because of me, which was bad enough, but the torture was all the more vicious because the charges against me were not so clear in the first place. The security department accused my cellmates of charges that were absolute nonsense just to save face. They made them write self-condemnations that said they had picked up and smoked cigarette butts and exchanged rice for other basic necessities.

I, however, was not released so easily. They tried to bring me to my knees with the incident of my taking a gun from the sentry, but I did not admit it until the last moment. The Security Department secretary was the one who treated me most viciously. What he was really doing was attacking my section guard because they were not on good terms.

I was finally released after 20 days. After all that, they were only able to get statements saying that I had picked up and smoked cigarette butts. On the way back to the cell, I ran into the head official, who made an utterly stupid joke that went “So, was it good there in solitary?” He told the catering section to give me porridge first, instead of rice.

I had been able to keep my conscience clear and my pride intact. Nevertheless, the incident excluded me from the National Pardon List in 2001.