The lone escapee from North Korea’s prison camps

Jul 31, 2012

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West Credit: By Blaine Harden

Even though North Korea’s government won’t admit they exist, the country’s prison camps can be seen via satellite imagery. The camps hold nearly 200,000 prisoners which receive lifelong punishment, work for over twelve hours a day, withstand various means of torture and dozens of them die on a daily basis due to chronic malnourishment.

Families serve time together, and children who are born into the camps never know a life beyond the prison walls. That is, except for the lone case of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known case of someone born in a no-exit camp to escape and survive. In Blaine Harden’s new book “Escape from Camp 14,” he tells the story of how Shin made it over an electric fence by climbing over the corpse of a dead inmate, escaped into China and eventually found his way to the United States. Harden not only focuses on Shin’s struggle, but expands his story to an exploration and commentary of North Korea’s totalitarian government, isolation from other countries and extreme secrecy.

How did Shin escape from North Korea in the first place? What was his life like inside the prison? How did he adjust to the outside world? What is North Korea’s response to his story?


Blaine Harden, author, “Escape From Camp 14: One Mans’ Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West” (Viking Press) Blaine is a contributor to The Economist, Frontline on PBS and former Washington Post bureau chief in East Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa.

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