Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor
sleep for days. But when I occasionally passed into nauseated slumber, I saw the face of the young officer who had traveled all the way to my hometown to collect my record. I saw my uncle’s face as his eyes had welled up with tears when I first visited him unexpectedly. And then appeared the faces of my family the day I was arrested. It was an ordinary day—peaceful and quiet. For some reason, my wife hand-washed the Nissan bright and shiny, early that morning. I remember thanking her for it. My son had already gone to school, but my wife and daughter were still at home and saw me off in front of the house. Our white dog was wagging his tail as I drove the car past the alley. That day I drove to the port of Nampo to dispatch an anchovy fishing crew to the sea and supervise the shipping of export items—fresh flatfish and fluke—to Japan, a lucrative business for the North Korean government. As usual, I met my business partners out on the ship, signed a couple of documents of the business transaction, and exchanged the delivery certificate for payment. When I returned to the parking lot by the dock to load my trunk with the briefcases of foreign currency just received from the Japanese business partner, I could not find my car. Instead I saw a group of Social Safety agents looking for me. They presented an arrest order, which bore an endorsement signature of Kim Jong-il himself. My heart froze. Would Kim Jong-il ever have seriously contemplated the connection between the suspected spy and the ambitious young officer who had once presented him with loyalty funds when he signed this order? I have no idea, but I knew that only Kim Jong-il himself could reverse his orders. I immediately knew what was going on. The agents ordered me to get in the backseat of their car, and two of them sat on either side of me. I was silent, but I noticed that at every checkpoint, there were two policemen on motorcycles ready to act if I attempted to escape. This was an espionage case, which required close attention to security. I felt that something I’d feared but unconsciously anticipated had finally happened. The decision to arrest me came from the highest level, and I was a mere victim of the state machinery. But I felt adamant that I personally had done nothing wrong. I tried to assure myself that the National Security Agency would have a better understanding of my case once they knew how, up to this point, I had been living solely for my country, despite my unfortunate family background. The Great Leader would clarify my case. But then I thought of the young officer who had amended my birth record. Was he safe? Was he also arrested? What about my family? What about my mother and uncle? An incident that had happened a long time ago frightfully entered my thoughts: thirty-two family members of a prominent political wrongdoer were all executed. This recollection drove me crazy, and I was burning with anxiety to know what had happened to my family and the officer. If only I had a weapon, I thought, I would free myself, dash into the facilities where they were detained, and rescue them. Much later I learned that my mother and uncle were promptly arrested and sent to a labor camp ( kwanliso ). I am not exactly sure what happened to my wife and children, but knowing the North Korean practice well, I would be greatly surprised if they weren’t also sent to a camp. Later I also learned that the officer who had amended my birth record was sent to a coal mine for forced labor. And immediately after my arrest, the entire National Security Agency had to launch a fifteen-day revolutionary struggle to cleanse their workplace of bad influences I, the American spy, might have left. My immediate superior, D, was demoted to a lower rank.
    My eyes saw bursting flashes of light and my ear felt unbearable sensations as the interrogator slapped my face with his large fist.
    “Tell me how your father passed on his espionage mission to you. What instructions

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