60 Minutes: North Korea Secret Prisons & Shin Dong Hyuk Camp 14 Escape

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60 Minutes: Three Generations Of Punishment

North Korea has never had the best reputation, but one of its problems dates back beyond Kim-Jong Un. Anderson Cooper explored the shocking stories of “a modern-day concentration camp,” hidden 50 miles from the country’s capital of Pyongyang: Camp 14.

60 Minutes: Camp 14

Thousands of prisoners are said to be performing hard labor under brutal conditions, and the punishment extends beyond one individual: parents, grandparents, and entire families are imprisoned for the crimes of one person.

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Shin Dong Hyuk, who escaped from Camp 14, was born there and is now speaking out about growing up in the stark prison conditions. Through a translator, he told Anderson Cooper that he did not know any other life, because he was born in the camp, where he did not receive much of an education.

60 Minutes: Shin Dong Hyuk

60 Minutes: North Korea Secret Prisons & Shin Dong Hyuk Camp 14 Escape

Former political prisoner Shin Dong Hyuk was born and raised in a secret North Korean political prison camp, before escaping at age 23 from Camp 14.

After 23 years, Shin Dong Hyuk made it out. The only images we have of Camp 14 are aerial satellite views, and the camp houses factories, mines, and fields. The compound is surrounded by an electrified fence.

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Hyuk said he did not think about escaping, because he assumed that anywhere beyond its borders would be exactly the same. His parents’ marriage was arranged by guards “as a reward for hard work,” but they were not allowed to live together.

The escaped prisoner said that he did not even know if his parents loved one another, because everyone in that environment just followed the directions they were given, so there were not opportunities for parents or children to show love to one another.

60 Minutes: North Korea Secret Prisons

In a school building, Shin Dong Hyuk watched his teacher beat a child to death over a minor infraction. Others were executed in a field for violating various rules at the prison, and others were required to bear witness. Shin said those public executions were a break from the constant hard labor.

As for meals, it was just a cornmeal and cabbage gruel. Prisoners turned to eating rats or insects for survival. Guards disregarded their hunger, and told them hunger would lead to repentance. But what were Shin and his family doing there anyway?

Supposedly, two of his uncles defected to South Korea during the Korean War. That is when his father and grandfather were exiled to Camp 14, where Shin was supposed to live and die as well.

60 Minutes: Political Prison Camps

David Hawk, a human rights expert, has been studying six political prison camps in North Korea. The idea of intergenerational punishment was that you could eradicate families who would rise up against the power of the regime.

Mao and Stalin did not turn to this type of practice; Hitler is infamous for his attempts to eradicate entire families. For the record, North Korea denies it has any political prisons, but North Korea says a lot of things that are probably dubious.

Since it’s hard to prove or disprove Shin’s story, can you believe it? Hawk said it is similar to stories he has heard from many other prisoners. He also has physical evidence: his fingertip was chopped off one day as a punishment.

60 Minutes: Shin Dong Hyuk Prison Camp

He also has scars all over his body, which he said he got in an underground torture chamber, where he was punished when his mother and brother allegedly attempted an escape when Shin was 13.

His torture included hanging by the ankles and burning. His wounds and scars were reportedly severe. He was even led to the execution fields one day, to witness his mother and brother’s killings.

Shin’s mother was hanged and his brother was shot. Since he had no connection to them emotionally and grew up in this prison, he believed their deaths were just because they had broken the rules.

60 Minutes: Escape From Camp 14 Review

Blaine Harden, author of Escape From Camp 14, is a foreign correspondent who has followed Shin’s story. Harden said he had no other means to assess his life than the prison rules.

At age 23, Shin met Park, a new prisoner from the outside who brought with him tales of travel and life beyond prison camps. Learning about the diverse food options in the outside world excited him.

Shin said he associates his freedom with what he is able to eat. “People can eat what they want. It could be the greatest gift from God,” he said. I think America has taken this concept to an extreme.

60 Minutes: Shin Dong Hyuk Escape

In 2005, Shin saw an opportunity to escape with his new friend, Park. At sunset, they ran for the fence. But Shin slipped in the snow before reaching the fence. Park was electrocuted, but Shin climbed over his friend’s body and went on the run.

“It was like heaven,” he said of the outside world and all its surprises. He made his way away from the camp, and as he traveled north, he learned more about China. Over time, he was able to enter China and travel through the entire country to Shanghai, where he was eventually granted asylum at the South Korean embassy.

By 2006, he moved to South Korea, where he suffered from post-traumatic stress and extreme culture shock. These days, at age 30, he has made his home in Seoul, South Korea. But his history still follows him.

60 Minutes: Shin Dong Hyuk Confession

In 2011, he confessed a final secret to the author, Harden. Shin, in fact, turned his brother and mother in to the prison camp authorities, on the hope of getting more food as a reward. But he also knew he could face execution for not reporting what he knew.

Learning about family life in the world at large did give him some context for guilt about what he did to his family, however disconnected from them he was. He is seeking repentance and speaks about human rights around the world.

60 Minutes: Kim Jong-Un Prison Camps

Shin thinks that prison camp inmates should be the focus of international news coverage about North Korea. He has even started an Internet talk show about these issues. He is also still enjoying the creature comforts of modern life.

But Shin still worries for the prisoners left behind, those being born into that life, and those being executed for violating the harsh rules.

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