Yeonmi Park: Her Tale of Escape and Internment

When you live in a society that is free, do you really know what it means to be on the other side of the fence? In many cases, Americans take the various liberties that they have for granted. In very few cases we see examples of the type of persecution in their lives on the other side of a free society. Once in a great while, individuals share their stories of injustice and persecution to show others what it’s like not to be in a free society.

Yeonmi Park’s life was one of ease and happiness, living in a well-to-do section of the country of North Korea. Her parents both worked for the government, her mother as a nurse for the North Korean army, and her father as a high ranking worker for the countries’ Workers Party. She remembers happy times, even though the government that she grew up under was one of the most brutal regimes in the world.

Park explains on idependent.co.uk her first taste of learning how her government operated when a close family friend was beaten in front of her. It made her quickly realize that the iron hand of the state was much more unforgiving than she first understood. Later, in secrecy, she managed to obtain a bootleg copy of the movie “Titanic,” and it totally changed her worldview. She had been brought up to respect and admire the government for the institution that it was, and now she saw it in a totally different light.

From that point on, a series of incidents occurred to Park’s family that totally changed her life. Her entire family was moved to another part of North Korea, a less affluent area than the one they had lived in before. They found life very hard to bear, scraping by to make ends meet. Everything was strictly rationed including food. To ensure that his family didn’t starve, Park’s father resorted to illegal activities to keep them fed. He was soon caught by the state and sentenced to serve hard labor in prison for his crime. He served time for several years, until he became extremely ill. The state, assuming that he was close to death due to his illness released him early.

When he arrived home, he realized that his family could not continue in the way it had. He devised an escape for his family out of North Korea. However, the years in jail had taken a toll too great on his health. He could not embark on the journey himself, and he stayed behind in North Korea and later died.

Park and her family snuck out of North Korea and across the border into China. There, they met a group of Chinese smugglers that were supposed to sneak them out of China and into South Korea. But little did they know that their strenuous journey was about to get even more complex and dangerous. The Chinese smugglers held them captive for two years and subjected them to all sorts of brutality and torture. Park saw many horrors during that time of internment, including the rape of her own mother.

Park’s family was released two years later, and they found safe passage to South Korea. Since her journey to freedom, she has become an activist, speaking to groups all over the world about her ordeal as a North Korean citizen and as a prisoner of Chinese smugglers. She hopes that her story will inspire change in North Korea and illuminate the ongoing problems of slavery and captivity.