Grace Jo and what is left of her family escaped from North Korea to China for the first time when she was just 7 years old. In her 18 years of life, Grace has experienced loss, deprivation, incarceration and little schooling.
Today, at the end of a long journey, she lives in Fairbanks. Her family was drawn here by the Rev. Young Sung, a local Korean-American minister who hopes they will get a new start in the U.S. after years of struggle.
Grace asked to be interviewed because she wants people to know what it is like to live in North Korea, its poor conditions and its oppressive, totalitarian government.
“Americans don’t know why the refugees come, why North Koreans want to search for freedom and come to America or South Korea,” Grace said.
From ages 9 to 11, Grace lived with an underground associate pastor of a Christian church and his family. All that time she had to stay indoors, so as not to be arrested by Chinese authorities.
Grace has escaped by riding atop a railroad car, moved about to live with strangers numerous times, has been interrogated for days and incarcerated for months in a brutal prison in China, has been arrested several times over and crossed and re-crossed borders in the dark of night.
Grace’s father was arrested for trying to provide food for his family during a time of starvation and died in a North Korea prison from brutal beatings and starvation, she said. An older sister disappeared while taking beans to market and is believed to have been kidnapped and sold into the sex trade in China. A 5-year-old brother either starved to death or was taken elsewhere — the family has not been able to find him and still holds out hope. Another brother drowned as a young boy.
P.S. – And if you'd like to give a few bucks to purchase a copy of a drawing Grace made that shows a scene of her life in a North Korean prison, here's the link.