Life after my release from prison

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by Dongjoo Ko

On 11 October 2005, I called the Military Manpower Administration and told them that I would not be enlisting. Instead a few days later, on 19 October, I announced my conscientious objection to the military through a press conference . My grounds for refusing the military were based on my conscience, Catholic faith and a firm belief that the military do not bring peace.
At university I joined the Catholic students movement which enabled me to take a step beyond my ordinary religious life of simply attending the mass once a week. Through the movement I learned that to truly follow the footsteps of Jesus, we need to reveal the hardship of the oppressed and the marginalised, and also be with them. I promised to myself that this is the way to live my life. It also taught me to view the society from Jesus perspective and put into practice what I have learned.

As the date for enlistment was coming up, I personally really did not want to go. I look young for my age and a bit fragile, so when one of my friends told me, "people like you have to pretend to be a woman and senior officers will touch you and stuff", it really freaked me out. Then in 2001 I heard about the Jehovah's Witness refusing to go to the military. Their refusal is based on their faith, so I also decided to do the same. I began to look at the problem of conscription from the point of view of my faith. "If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other", and "love your enemies" were the teaching from Jesus. Could I imagine Jesus carrying a gun to defend peace? The answer was very clear. I made my decision to become a conscientious objector.

Once my mind was clear, I had to go through police and prosecution investigation. I was arrested on 24 January 2006. Many of my friends signed petitions asking the authorities not to detain me but because my actual residence did not match the residence on paper, I was put in the prison . I think they just wanted me to feel the state power for refusing the sacred duty to serve the military and not following the rules of the society.
From the moment I was confined to being released was probably the time of my life when I suffered most. Inside the prison, Jehovah's Witnesses were at least recognised as conscientious objectors whereas I was just someone who was selling the name of Jesus to avoid mandatory service . This accusation was indeed very hurtful because all I wanted to do was live as a true Christian.

Life in the prison was almost like the army except that we did not have a rifle. It was a class society like I have never felt before. From waking up in the morning until night , everything had an order and most of the work inside the prison cell was up to me because I was the youngest in the room. I never realised that a month could go so fast and on 14 March I was finally released on bail. While my appeal was proceeding I was able to stay outside.

Not surprisingly, the government did not change its position and the court ruled that I had broken the law. I appealed again to the Supreme Court. Then my bail was canceled on 21 September so I had to return to the prison. If I wanted to be paroled I was required to do work to show that I had been "corrected". I was not inclined to do this but had little choice and so I signed up for jail work.

I was put in the community kitchen where the main task was to prepare meals for 1700 inmates. From the first day I was totally lost and rushed off my feet. I could only sit down during the meal time which was for less than 10 minutes. I was taught nothing but got screamed at if I did not do something properly. It was totally up to you to figure out what and how to do things. While I was lost in hard labour, I could not help but think that all this stress and pain was actually coming from the value placed on speed, on hurrying things.. Because we were so busy and had to rush, nobody could even think of taking a bit of time off to teach things step by step. That moment I really thought about the importance of slowing down life. Looking back now at why we were so caught up in speed, I think it is because of greed; the greed of wanting more than others and the greed of wanting to control.

After spending a year and two months locked up in prison, I was released on 28 September 2007. I did not know what would happen next. I was simply happy that I did not have to go back to prison. It seemed unreal that I was able to meet groups of people together and take pictures with them.

Now, after more than a year since my release, I feel that a simpler life that does not exploit anyone is a way to diminish violence and it has become my dream to live this way. To me, cultivating land and living in a sustainable manner comes close to the life that I dream. At the moment I am working in an organisation that supports people who want to return to farming. Sooner or later I plan to do the same. Plans for alternative military service have been set back recently and the people objecting the military are still sent to jail. In these circumstances I owe a great deal to the conscientious objection movement and am sorry I am not directly involved with it.. However, there is no doubt that I will always feel concerned about this issue and will try to do my best in any help.

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