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For the perceived disloyalty of just one relative, three generations of a family – grandparents, parents, and children – are sent to perform hard labor on the brink of starvation in brutal North Korean prison camps, according to a young man who says he was born in one of the camps.
Shin Dong Hyuk, 30, is believed to be the only person born in a North Korean prison camp who has ever escaped to tell about it. In "Three Generations of Punishment," which will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Dec. 2 (7:30-8:30 PM, ET/7:00-8:00 PM, PT) on the CBS Television Network, Shin tells Anderson Cooper that he grew up with almost no knowledge of the world beyond the prison camp's electrified fence.
"Did anybody ever explain to you why you were in a camp?" Cooper asks Shin. "No," Shin says, through a translator. "Because I was born there, I just thought that those people who carry guns were born to carry guns and prisoners like me were born as prisoners." Watch an excerpt.
He says he had no idea that America existed or that the world was round. For the first two decades of his life, he says, he never thought about escaping because he thought the rest of the world was just like the prison camp.
Shin paints a devastating portrait of life in Camp 14, a political prison located in the mountains 50 miles north of North Korea's capital, Pyongyang. He describes being tortured, seeing a little girl beaten to death for stealing a few kernels of corn, and watching his mother and brother executed before his eyes. Hunger was a pervasive factor of everyday life, he tells Cooper. Inmates were fed a thin corn gruel with cabbage day-in and day-out. The prisoners were so hungry, Shin says, they ate rats and insects to keep from starving. "The guards always told us, 'Through hunger, you will repent,''' Shin says.