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Former North Korean Prisoner Talks about Happiness

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According to Amnesty International, North Korea has a vast network of gulags that imprison over 200,000 people. The most feared camp is known as "Total Control Camp 14." In Camp 14, hunger is so rampant that prisoners behave like "panicked animals" at mealtimes. Teachers at the camp school beat students to death for minor infractions. Medieval torture devices are employed in dungeon-like underground cells. And human relationships are so degraded that prisoners inform on family members.

The book Escape from Camp 14 tells the gripping story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the first known escapee from Camp 14. Shin was born in Camp 14, but at the age of 23 he escaped, finding his way to South Korea and eventually the United States. Today, Shin lives in Seoul, South Korea, a nation that in many ways resembles the United States and other developed countries.

In a 2012 documentary, Shin reflected on the nature of true freedom and happiness. Towards the end of an interview Shin said:

When I lived in the labor camp, I had to suffer a lot of pain …. But in South Korea you have to suffer when you don't have enough money. It's exhausting. It's all about money. That makes it tough for me here. When I think about it, I rarely saw someone committing suicide in the camp. Life was hard and you were an inmate your whole life. But in South Korea many people attempt suicide. They die. It may look like the people here don't want for anything. They have clothes and food. But there are more people committing suicide here than in the camp. There are news reports about that every day.

The interviewer asked, "What do you miss about the life in North Korea?" Shin got out his cell phone and started looking at it and tapping the screen before he said:

I miss the innocence and the lack of concerns I had. In the camp … I didn't have to think about the power of money like I do in South Korea. Though I don't miss everything from that camp …. I don't know how else to say it: I miss my innocent heart.

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