Some use prison labor companies (or penal labour) because it is a cheap and effective way to carry out menial tasks. Some of them believe that they are offering prisoners an alternative being locked up 23 hours a day even if the work itself isn’t very taxing. Others try to offer training and make the work part of a rehabilitation process. The problem is that the prison service is at loathe to release any details about the contracts citing commercial confidentiality and the effect adverse publicity might have.
This website was formerly about examining the relationship between private companies and the labor which such companies sourced from prisoners in UK. The owners of the website sought to gather material which could help in improving the labor relationship of prisoners and their well being in instances where they could be paid ‘real’ wages for their work in new plans for the penal reformers.
I’ve decided to remake this website all together and will address the various challenges that prisoners face while they are being held in correctional facilities. Most of the fundamental rights and privileges are ever overlooked and their health and living conditions are usually a nightmare. I sought to address such issues and most of the information can be accessed by clicking the topics below.
In the meantime, I felt the need to share a story about the tribulations that my aunt had to undergo as she served her jail term in prison and below is a recount of how much she underwent as I evidenced from what she told me.
What is Prison Labour?
As most people on the planet already know, living in North Korea is anything except an ordinary thing. The same secretive nation is seen as a pariah of the world, an entity that can stay defiant against any force in the world because it possesses nuclear capabilities. This information is something that is readily available anywhere in the world and often, the same nation is a part of the international daily news cycle. But, at the same time, many have very little information about how people actually live inside of North Korea, even though many realize that most of them have an experience like being prisoners in an entire country.
However, I was born and raised in the same land, which allowed me to experience a lot of things there, but one of them was most horrendous: a prison labour camp. Often, when I began to tell my story, people start to feel sorry for me, believing that I was a prisoner inside of the same institution. Unfortunately, my story begins with an immediate twist. It is correct that I got to experience a prison labour camp, but I was located on the other side of the barbed wire fence, working as a guard. How I came to that position has to have with my family origins.
Prison Labour Has Benefits and Risks
My grandfather fought in the Korean War in the 1950’s and attained a rank of a colonel just before it ended. In one of the last major battles, he was killed, leaving my father as an orphan. But, because he died a death that the government of North Korea labeled as heroic, my father received the best care in a new government orphanage. When he got older, he entered military school, then the military academy. He became an officer like my grandfather and soon after, he met and married my mother. I was born in 1967 into a proud North Korean family. But, even though my father loved his country, he believed that I should not carry the family tradition.
Instead, he decided that I should become a police officer, more priceless, a prison guard. He held the strong belief that the biggest enemies of the country are its dissidents and all others who defy the great leader. Being a small child at that time, I naturally accepted this as my fate. I enrolled in the police academy and specialized in the management of prisoners. In the late 1980’s I finished my education and began to work immediately right in a fully operational prison labour camps. The history of North Korea includes a lot of instances of prison labour salvation or slavery being used as workers. During the Japanese occupation, they were used to build roads and other infrastructure.
But, after the civil conflict that split the island of Korea into two countries, the North quickly began rounding up anyone who defied the government or seemed suspicious. The government presented these prison labour camps as a place where prisoners would be re-educated and sent back into the society as new and better people. As I began working, I saw a different picture. Sure, there were a lot of good people working as guards, including those who really tried to help the inmates to rehabilitate themselves, giving those lessons on the great history of North Korea and how to be loyal citizens.
Why Prison Labor is Bad
Often, those prisoners who were willing to cooperate were released after a year or two, vowing never to return. But, many other times, I witnessed things that could not be forgotten. I saw people humiliated, harassed and tortured. Sometimes, the methods made me sick to my stomach, even though I never participated or hurt anyone. Many of the other guards enjoyed hurting other people for purely sadistic reasons and I could not do anything about that. But, at the same time, as an educated worker, I had the privilege of keeping my hand clean, even though I was present there every day.
Their sounds and screams of the inmates gave me nightmares for days on end, where I felt I was the actual prisoner and part of those prison labour slavery camps. In spite of this, I stuck to my job, knowing that my father expected me to be a good citizen, at least, how he saw this idea. In a strange way, for those who behaved and followed the prison labour policy rules often got a good exercise while they spent time in the camp. Many tasks they were given were really demanding, but for many who did their part accordingly, they got results that were better than any weight loss exercise or special diet plan you could imagine.
Why Prison Labor is Good
In part, the camps were originally imagined like this: as a prison where people would become better individuals, both physically and mentally. That is why for those who wanted to do their time, the exercise did plenty of good. For others, the diet was starvation and weight loss simply an absence of any nourishing food. But, as the months became years, I realized that the camps really were only slave prisons where many never left.
In the early 1990’s my mother and then my father passed away and my loyalty to North Korea died with them. I knew that if I just quit my job I could very well end up in the same place along with other prisoners. That is why I made a plan and plotted how can I escape over the border and find freedom in South Korea. The venture was extremely dangerous and could end with my death. I realized that I had only one chance at this but I was more than willing to take this risk. That is why I bribed my way to the border and then one dark night slipped across it and entered South Korea.
There, I immediately asked for political asylum and was granted this status. Now, more than two decades later, I live in Seoul with my wife and two children and since recently, one grandchild. I volunteer in a charity that helps people who escape from North Korea, knowing that I still have a huge debt to pay to all those wretched prisoners I did not help while I was a guard.
Sometimes, I experience a nightmare about those times, but then I wake up and remind myself that my real nightmare ended when I escaped North Korea. Since then, I got a chance to build my life, not simply destroy other people’s lives in slave prison labour camps.