According to a report released in June by the government-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul: "Prisoners sent to a total-control zone [in North Korea] can never come out. They are put to work in mines or logging camps until they die. Thus the authorities don't even bother to give them ideological education. They only teach them skills necessary for mining and farming."
Shin was born and raised in a North Korean gulag. His life changed in 1996, when his mother and brother were accused of trying to escape. Guards interrogated him in an underground torture cell about a suspected family plot to flee the camp. They stripped and hung him by his arms and legs from the ceiling, and held him over hot charcoal.
During the interrogations he learned for the first time that his father's family belonged to a "hostile class" - a category that entailed punishment over three generations - because his uncles had collaborated with the South Korean Army during the Korean War.
On Jan. 2, 2005, when Shin and his co-worker were collecting firewood near the camp's electrified fence and could not see any guards, they ran.
In July 2005, Shin reached China. In February 2006, a South Korean helped him seek asylum at the South Korean Consulate in Shanghai. He arrived in Seoul last August.
Today, Shin bears burn scars from the torture and the electrified fence, and walks with a slight limp. He says he has recurring nightmares about being back in Camp No. 14.
Telltale signs [of a North Korean political prisoner]: the avoidance of eye contact and arms warped by heavy labor from childhood.
"An instruction drilled into every guard's head is: Don't treat them like humans."
[Excerpt of an article by Choe Sang-Hun, The International Herald Tribune]