Photo: 60 Minutes
For the first 23 years of his life, Shin Dong-hyuk had no idea what life was like outside his prison walls. Shin was born and raised in a North Korean prison and is believed to be the only person who has escaped and lived to talk about it.
In a lengthy interview with 60 Minutes, Shin goes into great detail about what life was like as a North Korean prisoner. He also talks about his harrowing escape and journey to freedom.
Two of Shin's uncles defected to South Korea around the time of the Korean War. As punishment for their actions, Shin's father and grandfather were sent to an internment camp known as Camp 14.
Shin was born in Camp 14 to parents whose marriage was arranged by the prison guards as a reward for good work. His parents weren't allowed to live together.
Anyone who tried, planned, or had knowledge of an escape would be shot. All the prisoners were required to watch the executions. Shin considered attending these executions as a break from the monotony of hard labour and constant hunger.
The tip of one of Shin's fingers was chopped off as punishment for accidentally breaking a machine while working in a factory.
His mother was hung and his brother was shot. Shin was brought to the very front to watch the execution. He says he felt no sadness watching them die since they had broken the rules of the prison.
When he was 23 years old, Shin met Park – a prisoner who once lived in Pyongyang and traveled in China. For the first time, Shin heard what life was like outside Camp 14.
Shin paid the most attention to Park's accounts of the different kinds of food people ate. Shin still defines freedom as eating whatever you want. He was ready to die for a good meal.
Shin and Park made a run for it and Park made it to the fence first. Park was electrocuted when he made contact with the fence. Using Park's body to ground the current and protect himself from being electrocuted, Shin crawled over Park and escaped.
Without knowing it, Shin made his way north towards China. He stole and bribed his way across the border and eventually got to Shanghai, where he snuck into the South Korean consulate and was granted asylum.
Shin is active in telling his story because he's sick of the amount of attention the press pays to Kim Jong-un and his wife rather than on the prisoners in the camps.
Even though Shin has obtained his own freedom and can eat whatever he wants, he feels guilty for turning in his mother and brother. He's also constantly worried about the people in the prison camps.
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