Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Inadvertent Psychological Experiment

Escape from Camp 14 is deeply disturbing, and I highly recommend it.

Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
Escape from Camp 14 is a chilling tale of Shin Dong-hyuk's escape from a North Korean prison camp. What is so interesting about Shin Dong-hyuk's story as written by Blaine Harden is that he was born inside this North Korean prison camp. Apparently they allow breeding between prisoners as a reward for 'good behavior.'

Escape from Camp 14 reveals the obscene violations of human rights that occur in North Korean prison camps, and was especially poignant because I am a similar age to Shin Dong-hyuk and could directly compare my memories during the specified years to his. For example he escapes on January 2nd, 2005 and I couldn't help but think of the New Years party I was at that year and how absurdly different my life has been from his.

This book struck me in a way that reading about the horrors of the Holocaust never could. Those atrocities happened long before I was born. But the atrocities in North Korea are happening right now. I mean right this minute in a prison camp, a child is likely being beaten, a woman is likely being raped by a guard (later to be killed if she happens to become pregnant), someone may be picking undigested corn kernels from cow dung to ease hir starving belly, and maybe two lucky prisoners are getting to have 'reward breeding' time. Right now. This minute. That is just nuts.

The other thing that struck me about this whole situation is that having children born into a hostile prison environment is an inadvertent psychological experiment. These children are raised without love and without trust. One of the sharpest points in the book is the reveal that Shin Dong-hyuk turned his own mother and brother in to the guards for planning an escape. He watched his mother's execution shortly thereafter and felt nothing but anger at her for planning an escape.

When he finally escaped, it was shocking to him to see people talking and laughing together without guards coming over to (violently) stop it. In Camp 14, gathering of more than 2 people was forbidden. These prison children are being raised on fear of the guards and suspicion of each other. One of the easiest ways to be rewarded is to tattle on another prisoner for something (stealing food, for example), and the children learn this quickly.

If something drastic happens and North Korea dissolves, these children raised in prison camps will have a near impossible time trying to adjust to a life of freedom and will have a difficult time forming attachments and trusting others (as seen in Shin Dong-hyuk and other refugees from North Korea). Their personalities and psychological profiles could be fundamentally different from any other group on earth. These atrocities should be stopped and these people should be studied and rehabilitated.

© TheCellularScale
Lee YM, Shin OJ, & Lim MH (2012). The psychological problems of north korean adolescent refugees living in South Korea. Psychiatry investigation, 9 (3), 217-22 PMID: 22993519

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