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I spent ten years living as a prisoner inside of a North Korean political prison camp. My name is Kang Chol-hwan, AMA.

Hello Reddit, my name is Kang Chol-hwan. For ten years I was a prisoner at Yodok political prison camp in North Korea. My family and I were sent there after my grandfather was accused of treason by the Kim regime.

5 years ago, I did a Q&A on Reddit about the living conditions in North Korea. In 2020, I've decided to do the same.

Since escaping North Korea, I have become a journalist, author, and human rights activist. I am the founder of the North Korea Strategy Center, an NGO whose goal is to advocate for free media and press in North Korea. We target North Koreans directly by sending external media such as movies, documentaries, and dramas inside the country. To learn more about NKSC please visit our website and like our Facebook page.

I have also started 2 Youtube Channels- 강철환TV and Aquariums of PyongYang, in Korean and English respectively. My team and I use the channels to discuss about North Korean politics and we hope to expand our topics to our international audience.

강철환TV (KOR):

Aquariums of Pyongyang (ENG):

My Proof: Picture→ Wikipedia Page →

I will be answering questions with the help of my translator next week. So please leave your questions and give us some time to answer them :) We look forward to hearing from you.

EDIT #1: [From Translator] Thanks for your comments and questions. Keep them coming! Also, I would like apologize for constantly switching from 1st to 3rd person. All questions will be answered by Mr Kang unless stated otherwise.

February 13th 2020
interview date

What were some of the more extreme things you saw while in camp?

Did you make any friends in prison that you intend to keep up with as time goes by?

What is the craziest thing that happened to you personally while serving your time?


xtreme things y

The most extreme thing in the camp was how desperate people were to live. And also, seeing executions, where people were hang to death in public. The most normal form of execution is by shooting.

I have made friends in North Korea. However, it is very dangerous to contact them even in North Korea. Needless to say, it is even more difficult when I'm in South Korea.


What kind of external media you send across seas? I know you said movies, documentaries, etc. But are you just sending stuff to people who ask, is there a mailing list?

Im glad you made it out, and are trying to help others who were in some sort of trouble as you were. It's nice seeing the good side of things like there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.


Hi! I'm a staff working with Mr Kang. I'll help answer some questions related to the organization and leave the rest to be answered personally by Mr Kang next week!
We send information through USBs, external harddrives and chips. We've people working with us in China. As we've been doing this for years, we've collated a list of people that are interested in the content. Usually, these people are elites making frequent trips to China.

We are now looking into sending entrepreneurship content to university students as many defectors of that age has expressed interest :).

Thank you so much for your question.


Do you suffer from any PTSD?

Do the events that happened in the prison effect your everyday life?


To be honest, he isn't sure. He felt like he has gotten used to it, but definitely, it was an extremely traumatic experience. With this traumatic experiences, Mr.Kang feels that it has affected all prisoners and North Koreans even though they may not feel anything. Sometimes, simple things in everyday life reminds him of the life in prison, eg. Feeling chilly on a rainy day makes him feel gloomy.


what kind of food did they give you to eat and what time did you have to get up and go to bed ? did they let you talk to the other prisoners at all?


They had a very limited ration of food. As there were many corn fields, they mostly ate corn as a staple. Due to a period of malnutrition, people started turning to hunting for rats for consumption.

Prisoners are able to talk to each other.


Have you seen the kdrama Crash Landing on You? Do you believe it was able to portray life in North Korea well?

If you haven't seen it, how well do you believe South Koreans understand life in North Korea?


Yes, he feels that the drama has portrayed life in North Korea well.

He feels that South Koreans see them as foreigners. They are intrigued and they receive many information. However, due to the differences in mindset, they have a distorted perception about North Koreans.


What percentage of North Koreans don't like Kim Jong Un?


At first, there weren't many people who dislike them because of the lack of outside information.

In the past, 80% of people liked Kim Il Sung.40% liked Kim Jong Il. However, as there is an influx of outside information, Mr Kang suggests that only 20% of people like Kim Jong Un.

Also, as there are many negative connotation about Kim Jong Un. eg. Building mixed saunas and karaokes for adult entertainment.


What made you question the propaganda while so many others never did?


External information made him question the propaganda. The truth is, as external information and content becomes more common in North Korea (via the black market or through sharing), more and more people are questioning the credibility of the regime. However, many people are uncertain of what can be done to improve in the situation.


How did you escape North Korea and did you flee alone?

Huge respects to you, I can't think how strong people like you are.


He escaped by the river into China. With the help of some Chinese, he hid in a Chinese vessel into international waters and got saved by a Korean ship. He escaped with his friend.


What memory do you cherish the most from North Korea? What memory do you wish you could forget? Thank you for everything you have done.


The most cherish memory: When he was in Pyongyang and attending elementary school.

The memory he wish he could forget: When he was in prison.


Despite the horrible conditions inside of the camp, was there anything positive that gave you hope/respite?


Although the camp is horrible, he feels like it gives people the will to live even when life is hard. Also, although it is really small, he made many friends and it seems rather close knitted.


Do you think that the average NK citizen believes that the regime has their best interest at heart?


Do you think that the average NK citizen believes that the regime has their best interest at heart

Definitely not. NK citizens know that the regime does not have their best interest but most of them could not do anything to change their circumstances.


I read your book about 10 years ago and it left an impact. To the best of your knowledge, is Yodok still there?


Yes, it is still there. However, due to the arrest of Jang Sung Taek and his family, Yodok prison was reestablished once again.


do you believe south korea and north korea will/can be united?


do you believe south korea and north korea will/can be united?

If the government is North Korea is still there, I don't think it's possible. Due to the difference in political stance.


Is it true that marijuana is legal in North Korea? Is it commonly smoked by people there?


Nope, it is illegal. But it is really commonly smoked and available. Also, punishment is lenient.


What are your feelings of Trump getting friendly with Kim Jong un?


What are your feelings of Trump getting friendly with Kim Jong un?

At first, it seemed like a good thing. It feels like Kim Jong Un is more comfortable with Trump as compared to Xi Jin Ping.

However, Trump is now against Kim Jong Un as he failed to denuclearize as promised. Trump probably thinks that his discussions with Kim Jong Un was useful for re-election


What surprising things North Koreans believe in about the outside world that are not true?


Sorry for the late reply. My team and I were very busy with so many appointments and did not get a chance to sit down together to answer questions.

In the past, North Koreans are taught that NK is the best place to be. The Kim regime fabricated many things (what wrong the world has done to us, etc.). However, in recent years, as more and more outside information is surfacing within NK, N.Koreans are starting to see a bigger picture.


Did any of the guards look remorseful or upset by the situation they were in? Any hidden small acts of kindness or mercy?


Hi, much apologies for the late reply.

As human beings, we all have feelings and guards too will show sadness or feel fear when they do harm to another North Korean. However, it's also understandable that they are also afraid of getting punished by the regime. So, despite feeling fear, they have to nonetheless do as they're told.


What do you think of tourists visiting North Korea? Do you consider it unethical?


Hi, apologies for the late reply.

I do not think it is unethical, but it definitely is inaccurate. Many tourists enter the country with the same experience, but they do not exactly see things beyond pyongyang.


We only hear of bad stuff, what are the good sides of living in NK? If any..


Hi, sorry for the late reply.

We live a simpler lifestyle and we're more close knitted with our family. We do not have many distractions and so, we led a healthier lifestyle too. There's no night entertainment and everyone goes home early. Naturally, with this, we are able to bond with our friends and family better.


What did they feed people there? Did you get anything to eat or drink or did you basically live off the land?


In prison, we are rationed with very limited amount of food like rice. It's not enough so we turn to eating corn and rats...otherwise, many people just suffered from malnutrition and other dietary medical problems.

I was living Pyongyang before I went to prison and Pyongchang after, we ate normally-- rice, noodles, meat, etc.

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