According to Shin [an escaped North Korean prisoner] the prison authorities matched his father, Shin Kyong Sup, with his mother, Chang Hye Kyong, and made them spend five days together before separating them. This sort of arrangement was known as "award marriage," a privilege given only to outstanding inmates. An exemplary worker might be allowed to visit the woman chosen as his wife a few times a year.
Shin's brother was born in 1974 and Shin in 1982. Young children lived with their mothers, who worked from 5 a.m. to midnight. Once they turned 11, children were moved to communal barracks but were allowed to visit their mothers if they excelled at their work.
"I got to visit my mother only once or twice a year," Shin said. "I never saw my whole family together. I don't think I saw my brother more than a few times."
There were up to 1,000 children but no textbooks in the school at Valley No. 2, the part of the camp where Shin lived. Pupils were taught to read and write, and to add and subtract, but little more. After school, children worked in the fields or mines.
Inmates were fed the same meal three times a day: a bowl of steamed corn and a salty vegetable broth. They scavenged whatever else they could find: cucumbers and potatoes from the fields, frogs, mice, dragonflies and locusts. Shin said he once ate corn kernels he found in cow droppings.
[Excerpt of an article by Choe Sang-Hun, The International Herald Tribune]