Something that happened, what's left, and what's to come

Lee Sangmin addressing a crowd
Lee Sangmin

Sometimes I dream about the past. Usually, I don't dream about positive experiences, just days I regret and memories I want to run away from. Memories remains an unconscious pressure, and come to me often in my dreams. It smells like a scent of dirt just before raining. I also dream about the future that never came. In the worst case scenario, the very situations I want to avoid appear in my dreams. I always breath a sigh when I wake up, and I’m glad they didn’t happen to me in real life.

What is the worst thing that can happen to me while in prison? For prisoners, the most anticipated thing is being released. I believe that most prisoners hope to get an early release through parole, by being a model prisoner. In a horrible place where I cannot even open the door, I cannot get out of the day and see the outside air and the landscape beyond 4 meters of the wall, sharing love with my beloved, smiling with my friends and family. I feel my heart beating so fast by imagining these things. At the same time, it is frustrating that this reality, these good things, are not available to me right now. If the scheduled parole is cancelled, it will be a terrible thing. Only three month left I have to spend. But those short days keep dragging on.

During life in prison, I became cautious about people. People make me joyful sometimes, but also make me feel difficult. If someone had trouble with a cell-mate or a workshop mate, this means an another prison life whilst in prison. A hell of a prison life will turn into more hell. Unfortunately, I did not have a good relationship technique to prevent disagreements with people. I have a straight-forward personality and rarely compromise. 'No' means 'no' and I couldn’t like the things I don’t like. I never do something I disagree with. The culture of 'Single-gender' in prison, which is made up of men only, creates a strong hierarchical order. It’s really hard to refuse the works of a person who is higher than me. That is why it was so difficult. I can be a mere victim of the order in prison. But making me a perpetrator is hard to do and if someone force me to become a perpetrator, I can't even pretend. When my rank went up in prison, I don’t know what to do when I ordered to ‘manage’ the new cell-mates.

I had to worry about the rest of my life when I was released. I became an ex-convict, and I had few choices. As a quote of “Life goes on”, conscientious objection was not an end of my life. It seemed to me that the conscientious objection was a big mountain for me and I didn’t think of the big mountain named life behind it. I loved bicycles so I started the bike repair. I got a job at a bicycle store and started work. I had a talent and skills, so employer noticed me as a good worker. I could make a lot of sales in a short period, and I could leave to another workshop with a better condition. But I was alway afraid to reveal my past. I couldn't build relationships via social media with my co-workers. I had to think about how to explain the blank space in my life lasting more than a year. I have to be ready to make inventive answers to the question “why you didn’t served in military”. I was always wary of getting closer to people beyond a certain point. I refused military service based on my conscience, but I was not conscious of my conscience. I was not ashamed of myself, but I had to be ashamed. So I had to lock myself up and protect me.

I still think deeply about people. I remember a lot of moments when I was in trouble because of my cell-mates. How to understand people still remains as a long-standing conundrum. There still remains a 'before, during, and after' my prison days. In many cases, this conundrum motivates me to live my life, giving me a break to think about a person who hurt me. It is really easy to spit and turn your head on a person that you do not like. But it is really difficult to try to understand and communicate with someone that you do not like. The habit of thinking deeply about people seems to be a great driving force for me. I watched a movie when I was in prison. That film told me that if I understood a person, then I will love them finally. Including myself. I want to understand a lot of things, and I want to be positive, and I want to love. I do not want to take away hopes and possibilities in any difficult moments. I believe this is love. I believe that all these struggles are the gestures of love.

If nothing else happens, I will live 60 more years. I want all my efforts to be completed in the rest of my life. Everything that passed was love for me. I hope I can do so in the future.#

Translated by Akhee Ahn

Sangmin is a conscientious objector, based on his Christian beliefs and his pacifism. He is the first objector in Korean Mennonite community so far. He got arrested in April 2014 and was released in July 2015. He works at the bicyle shop at the moment.

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