"Hope is the poor man's bread" * for many people in the world today.
For children and adults in today's prison camps, hope comes (on rare occasions) in the form of a few grains of rice or kernels of corn. Those found or stolen grains supplement their meager daily diet of corn porridge, pickled cabbage and cabbage soup. Yet, if the grains are found on a prisoner by camp prison guards it is punishable by beatings, often resulting in death, as in the case of a former female classmate of Shin Dong-hyuk who had five kernels of corn. She was only six years old.
This remarkable article, "How One Man Escaped from a North Korean Prison Camp" in today's issue of The Guardian, tells the story of Shin, and opens our eyes to the condition of the people in North Korean prison camps. It brings new meaning to daily prayers when we say, "Please bless those in need".
The article, written by Blaine Harden is a preview for his soon-to-be-published book about Shin's journey, Escape From Camp 14. Shin is the only person to have been born and raised in a North Korean prison camp — and to have escaped to the West. He escaped in 2005. You can also listen to an NPR broadcast about it here.
In one touching account, when Shin was 13 years old, he was put in a tiny windowless prison cell and didn't see the sun for six months. He was being punished because
Kim, whom Shin called Uncle, offered Shin hope of a world outside the prison camp into which Shin had been born. Kim's caring words, medical skills and stories of what "food outside the fence looked, smelled and tasted like" kept Shin alive. Shin's true story can't help but bring to mind the familiar story of Edmond Dantès and his older fellow prisoner Abbé Faria who offered him friendship and an extensive education in the literary classic,The Count of Monte Cristo.
"For about two months, Uncle nursed Shin, rubbing salty cabbage soup into his wounds as a disinfectant and massaging Shin's arms and legs so his muscles would not atrophy. "Kid, you have a lot of days to live," Uncle said. "They say the sun shines even on mouse holes."
"One day a guard unlocked the door of Shin's cell and handed him his school uniform.
"Let me hold you once," Uncle said, grasping both of Shin's hands tightly. Shin did not want to leave. He had never trusted – never loved – anyone before. In the years ahead, he would think of the old man far more often than he thought of his parents. But he never saw Uncle again."
Hope often does come in the form of food. Hope also came to Shin in the form of Uncle, and eventually in the form of a new prisoner named Park . . . who helped Shin escape.
Shin In Geun, photo by Manchul Kim for The Guardian
*[quote by George Herbert Jacula Prudentum]