Shin Dong-Hyuk was born a prisoner in Camp 14, a long established North Korean labor camp. The author, a writer who has set up a series of interviews with Shin to reveal his life story and his incredible status as the only person born in a North Korean labor camp to escape. He grew up learning to snitch on his friends and family would earn him food in an environment where almost everyone was always starving. His parents were chosen because of their “good behavior” in the camp to get married and have children; they could only see each other five days per year. Common camp activities included: executions for those who tried to escape, beatings for anyone caught stealing food or misbehaving, and prisoners disappearing if they tried to speak out against the leaders of the camp. Shin learned quickly to keep his head down, food being his only motivation, if he was going to survive this living hell.
Shin’s education was a strict curriculum of basic math, limited north korean approved history and learning to read and write. Every morning, he and his class had to recite the Ten Commandments of the labor camp; the first rule being that to try to escape the camp would result in execution. The camp taught its prisoners that they were worthless, nothing, disposable; those who were born inside the camp never knew anything of mercy, kindness, forgiveness, or companionship. Prisoners were not allowed to be in a group of two or more without permission from guards so there was little chance to make friends and find courage in each other. Therefore, Shin could only rely on himself to avoid being beaten and to get the food necessary to survive.
One day, Shin had a day off from school to visit his mother and his older brother in his mother’s house. Late at night, thinking Shin was asleep, his mother and his brother finalized their plan to escape the camp. Shin slipped out of the house, ran to his school dormitory and told a guard of his mother and brother’s attempted escape. The next morning, guards came to collect him and his father to take them to a secret underground prison underneath the labor camp to be questioned and tortured for information that neither of them had. The guard that Shin had told had taken all credit of learning of the escape plan and so, the prison guards horribly tortured 14 year old Shin close to death before they learned of the guard’s deceit. Shin’s back had multiple burn scars, his hands and feet mutilated from being hung upside down for days and more scarring around his entire body. Shin was moved to another cell with an elderly man who helped heal his scars and regain his strength. He also told Shin of his life outside the confines of the Camp for months until Shin was released to watch the public gruesome execution of his mother and brother.
Shin reentered school where he struggled to reenter the regular schedule of manual labor and inadequate education. His schooling finished, Shin begins work in a farm but then is...