With only 100 days left until I was due to get out, I started to get pretty anxious. That was the most difficult period of my four years and nine months inside. 100 days felt like a million years. My daily routine used to feel short, but during that period it was too long and hard to endure. If I hadn’t received any letters from my mother, I would have died of barely repressed anger, or had a breakdown.
I don’t remember everything from mother’s letters clearly, as it happens. However, there is one that sticks in my mind to this day.
“My dear son! You’re practically half my heart, and I miss you so much! I wish I had the wings of a bird so I could fly there and hug you tight! I dearly hope that you don’t get hurt and return home safely.”
That part of the letter is still crystal clear in my mind. Mother’s letters always gave me faith anew, so even though I encountered several dangerous incidents thereafter, nothing serious happened. I was able to do as my mother wished.
One such incident happened up on the mountain. 30 of the Logging Section had gone to Wongol to chop wood as normal. The groups were scattered around working, but from a distance I could nevertheless hear nonstop cursing from the 2nd group.
“You bastards! This is not your first time cutting down trees, but you’ll never get these down like that! Get over here!”
As usual, a security guard was beating someone up. I could see a new prisoner crying and begging. Rookie prisoners were often beaten up, mostly because labor in prison was completely different from that in ordinary society. You see, since the foremen of the 2nd and 3rd group had been recently released, there were rookies working under the supervision of inexperienced foremen, and they were having a hard time as a result. Mistakes equaled beatings, and inexperience led to mistakes. So, when my group’s work was all but finished, I went over to the 2nd group with my ax. I saw the unfortunate victim with a bloody head, writhing under the security guard’s whipping. In order to save him from a pretty merciless beating, I hit him instead.
“Hey! Have you never done any work in the real world?”
As soon as I started beating him, the security guard wandered off to observe the efforts of the 1st group, as I knew he would. Judging from the fact that I hadn’t heard any cursing from their work area, they must have finished their work quickly. That could easily have been because screams from the 2nd group had scared them. Either way, it was good news.
I learned from my experiences inside that, no matter how busy I was, I had to act calmly. However, inexperienced men were not able to work properly with mean security guards breathing down their necks. Then the security guards would curse and kick them.
Anyway, I taught the guys in the 2nd group how to work step-by-step, and joked around to make set them at ease, and they began to speed up.
The tree one of them was working on started to fall, but it got stuck in another tree’s branches so I began to hack the second tree down. The natural features around the tree were not particularly helpful, so I had my feet flat on the ground as I chopped. I had to attack it for quite a while before I could get around to cutting off the trunk at the stump. However, the tree the rookie had cut was supporting it, so I couldn’t get it down. But it seemed that if I were to hit the tree’s base and let it waver, it would come down.
I advised the freshman standing next to me to watch out, and started chopping at the tree again. When I was just about to hit it for the 4th time, I got a strange feeling in my right foot, which happened to be set on lower ground. The inexplicable feeling caused me to take a step back before I chopped again.
With the 4th chop, the trunk finally came away from its roots and drove down into the land. What brought me out in a cold sweat was the fact that the stump struck the exact spot my right food had been a second before. Suddenly I didn’t feel like working anymore. I dropped my axe and sat down, far from the tree, which still hadn’t come down.
“That tree almost took off my right foot,” I whispered to myself, staring absently at the lucky foot.
For some strange reason that tree, which had struck the ground so hard, still wouldn’t move. The security official tried to bring it down by getting everyone in the work groups involved, but it didn’t move at all. Not a bit. We even tried using a lever. The next step was to have everyone use his iron chains and pull the tree at the same time, but that got them nowhere. It was winter, and the already-frozen ground had re-frozen around the trunk. What could we do about it?
The security guards kept cursing, claiming that we had almost gotten the tree down. I, on the other hand, didn’t really hear anything he said. If I hadn’t moved my right foot, the tree would have landed on it. And I would have had no choice but to have my foot chopped off. Just thinking about what would have happened made me shudder.
As we went down the mountain that evening after completing all our work, I thought about mother’s letters. It was probably her eagerness to bring me home safe that saved my right foot. I thanked her over and over and over in my mind.