What Does the No.12 Reeducation Camp Look Like?

The No. 12 Reeducation Camp can be found about four kilometers east along the mountain slopes from a small rural town called “Jeongeo-ri,” which is itself about 12 kilometers from Hoiryeong in the direction of the big east coast port of Chongjin. Travelling to Chongjin by bus, you can see Jeongeo-ri on the left side and Poongsan-ri on the right. Heading off for Jeongeo-ri from the main street, you pass under a railway bridge. There lies the entrance to Jeongeo-ri.

If you keep going along this road for about 1.5 kiltometers, you will find a checkpoint. This checkpoint is manned by the security forces of the No. 12 Reeducation Camp. Pass through the checkpoint, walk for about 30 minutes, and the Camp itself will drift gently over the horizon.

Jeongeo-ri Reeducation Camp accommodates about 2000 unfortunates, guarded by roughly 300 members of the security forces.

Among the 300, 60 are enlisted sentries- people directly pulled out of the army to join the Jeongeo-ri Prison. Another 10 are 30 to 35 year-old sentries who live with their families; another 10 of them are unmarried sentries of “sergeant major” rank. The remaining 220 are security officials with stars on their shoulders, from second lieutenant up to captain.

The enlisted sentries are selected from among the freshest young junior middle school kids who have joined the army not via military recruitment but through the People’s Safety Agency. It’s not a good job, so only people with no financial or political backing are picked to be prison sentries. For in reeducation camps, sentries go through almost as much grief as prisoners.

This is because they are duty-bound to monitor the prisoners, which means that they always have to follow the prisoners around come rain or snow. When the prisoners climb mountains to gather firewood, they have to be at the top too. Where the prisoners go, the sentries are never far behind.

No matter how hungry or tired they are, they have to carry heavy arms and accoutrements all day. Sentries always carry a 3.2kg AK-68 and 2 clips. That is why reeducation camp sentries generally have looks on their faces no different from the prisoners; annoyed and exhausted.

In the No.12 Reeducation Camp, there is a main building, of course, and a number of branch offices. The No. 2 and No. 5 branch offices are in charge of a copper ore mine 1.5 kilometers southeast of the main building. The No. 4 branch is located 5 kilometers east. The No. 1 and 3 branches are included in the main office. The main building is commonly known as “Jeongeo-ri Camp.”

Then there are the staff. There is a prison warden, the top officer, followed by a vice warden, a political director, an executive officer and in the 1st to 5th branches there are subordinate officers: a chief officer, security officers, administrative security officers, general security officers and such like. By keeping my ears open I learned that Jeongeo-ri Prison was founded in 1970 as “No. 22 Juvenile Reformatory,” and that back then the concrete walls of the prison were just 6 meters high.

Then in the mid-1980s the name was changed to “No.12 Reeducation Camp” and the concrete walls rose to eight meters. Even now, you can clearly distinguish the added wall, piled up more than 20 years ago.

The concrete walls of the main camp make a 120 meter-long square. Beyond the walls are places for each section; prison cells, a warehouse, carpentry section, drafting section, public affairs section, the kitchen, tree felling section, hospital, pharmacy, a cargo labor section, an auto repairs section and so forth.

Two of the branch offices are surrounded by cylinders of barbed wire instead of concrete walls. This fence, with an electrified core made of high-tension wire at the center, is three-meters in diameter. It is a three meters-wide triplex wire entanglement, and as effective as a wall.

There are roughly 800 or 900 families of prison staff in the area as well. Centering the main building there is an extremely small number of households in a town called “Sangdong,” while 30 households live in Hadong, 1.2 kilometers away from the checkpoint. Jungdong, divided into west and east with the prison walls at the center, has 160 households. The No.12 Camp is classified into one main office, two branch offices and about ten different sections.