Ma Il. He, known for his unique name, was killed by a mob in the summer of 2004. His hometown was Musan, high on the Chinese border. He was only about 160 centimeters tall, which was pretty small compared to others. However, that did not stop him being feared. He was cunning and cruel; security officials were nothing but sport for him. He was a bright man too. But in the prison, being too smart will let you down. Ma Il, who toyed with everyone around him, eventually fell foul of malnutrition due to a conspiracy between security officials. They moved him to the Public Affairs Section where he was beaten to death by other prisoners. Other prisoners were told that he died due of malnutrition, but it was far from the truth.
Ma Il originally belonged to the Auto Repairs Section. We spent our ‘newcomer period’ together, and became foremen at around the same time. But we were not on good terms; he treated me like a kid since I was younger, although after he was sent to the section for the weak and malnourished in 2002, our relationship got a little better.
Ma Il was only a foreman but he controlled the section head, and this gave him a good reputation among his section members. However when Jang Song Shik, an ordinary prisoner from Musan who had been in the Public Affairs Department, was moved to the Auto Repair Section, Ma Il’s life got a little tougher. Jang was over 170 centimeters and had a splendid physique. His parents were very rich, so soon after he came he magically became the Auto Repairs Section head. People expected that they would get along well on account of coming from the same hometown, but the relationship between the two became very strained. Jang Song Shik tried to bring Ma Il down, while Ma Il kept telling on Jang Song Shik to the security official. Finally the security official in charge of Auto Repairs Section, who was keeping an eye on both of them, kicked Ma Il out to the malnourished section. Ma Il had lost the battle with Jang Song Shik, but he continued to squeal on Jang to the Security Department and other officials. Jang was moved to the 2nd section of the 2nd branch, but later on his parents bribed the executives and he was released on sick bail.
Anyway, even after Jang was kicked out of the Auto Repairs Section, Ma Il was not allowed to return. In his new section he became foreman once again, but as soon as he got the position he started to act rashly and act very meanly.
Three years was added to his terms when he killed and ate a dog which accidentally wandered through the prison gate. Another nine years was added when it was revealed that he was having a homosexual relationship with another prisoner, increasing his term to a total of 15 years. Thereafter he lost all hope of ever getting out of prison, and started to live his life in a completely reckless way. He openly cursed at the security officials. He kept on beating up his section members for no reason at all, so he was placed in solitary confinement at least once a week. Since he was in solitary confinement, of course, he began to suffer from malnutrition. According to another foreman, Ma had some manly characteristics, but that very manliness got out of control, to the point of surprising the security officials who had dealt with prisoners for years.
One day, there was an incident where Ma Il spat at the face of a security official who was cursing at him. Outraged, the security official pulled out his rifle and threatened to kill Ma. Ma Il, however, couldn’t have cared less. Not even a bit. Instead, he unbuttoned his shirt and yelled, “Shoot me! Shoot me if you dare!” He was making fun of the security official. There was no one who mocked security officials like he did in the entire history of the Jeongeo-ri Prison.
But in prison, when one gets out of control, the grim shadow of death finds an opportunity to come by. So it was for Ma.
One day Ma was moved to Public Affairs Section. The security official there was really ferocious. Even his fellow security officials couldn’t stand him. The Security Department and the Reeducation Department had had a thorough discussion about Ma, and their conclusion was to send him to that section for that very reason. On the first day he was moved, he became the victim of mob violence. It was probably an order from the fearsome security official. His slyness must have overwhelmed Ma’s own skill, because he had the stuffing knocked out of him right away by the attitude of his section members. For the fearsome security official, the attitude with which Ma mocked the other security officials was something that had to be dealt with violently and swiftly. He did not hit or curse Ma Il himself, though. Instead, he mobilized other prisoners to do it for him.
If there had been any conscientious prisoners in the Public Affairs Section, prisoners like Ma Il wouldn’t have been beaten to death. I’m sure Ma Il did not know either that the death he had earned by virtue of his accumulated rage and resentment happened to be in vain. The kind where you are beaten to death for your own deeds.
Nevertheless, even when he was suffering from 3rd degree malnutrition there was a hint of confidence in his ragged face. Whenever we ran into each other, he gave me a smile. I saw his motivation in that smile; not to give in to the monstrous security officials until the day he died.
Most prisoners are not afraid of death, because most of them labor hard and suffer hunger that is much more painful than death. All that is left in them is desperate rage. Still, people endure it by thinking of their family back home. To put it simply, dying in the prison was thought to be such a useless and meaningless death, even if death itself was not feared at all.
Ma Il died in vain, though. Ever since then, I was finished with the Public Affairs Section. I didn’t want to deal with those people who blindly followed the evil will of a security official and beat a fellow prisoner to death with their own hands. Section heads and foremen close to me did not treat them as human beings either. Even section members treated the Public Affairs Section head coldly. Whenever he visited my section, my section members yelled, “You son of a bitch! Why do you keep coming back?” Whenever we were given time to watch TV on Sundays, the section heads and cell heads were given the front seats. The Public Affairs Section head, on the other hand, always had to sit in the corner and watch. His whole section had to sit at the back too. I hope those section members felt hated, being ignored by everyone else.
Ma Il! If he were born during the Japanese occupation, he might have become a national hero or an independence fighter However, he was born in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and he was beaten to death in a small rural prison.