A Prisoner in the City of Refuge

Cho Eun-yeong from Ulsan, Korea

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Clank!

A blunt iron gate opened with a dull sound.

A documentary captured the lives of prisoners in a women’s penitentiary. ‘How are their lives?’ My attention got focused on TV.

Thirty minutes a day for exercise! It was the only time when the prisoners could see the sun. They laughed and talked. Some exercised while others just sat in the sun. If they did not wear uniforms, they would just look like ordinary women, not prisoners.

A prisoner asked the reporter if her face would appear on TV. She didn’t ask because she minded it.

“It doesn’t matter if they send me back home.”

She laughed, but it sounded sad.

It was four in the morning. The prisoners who were in charge of cooking began the day of the penitentiary. As they had to prepare meals for over 640 people, they were busy. The reporter asked one of them if she was tired. “It’s hard to carry a rice bag that weighs 40kg (90 pounds), but I’m cooking with the mind of repentance,” she said.

When the meal time came, food trays were put into each room through small openings at the bottom of the prison doors. After finishing eating, they went to work or received vocational training. Around nightfall, they had evening meals and a roll call. Then a day at the penitentiary ended.

They might be sick of their daily routine with limited freedom, but they blamed nobody. When a prisoner said that her current life was the result of what she did in the past, and that she was paying for that, tears welled up in her eyes. Among them, a prisoner serving a life sentence was shown on TV. She was selected as a model prisoner, and was allowed to have a night with her parents in thirteen years. In a small, private accommodation inside the penitentiary, the prisoner and her mother embraced as soon as they saw each other. What words did they need to say?

When they went into the accommodation, a prison officer checked what her parents brought and locked the door from the outside. The rule did not allow the prisoner to stay inside without locking the door, even though she was with a person who was not a prisoner. Her parents were no better than prisoners in confinement, but their faces were all bright. They didn’t care whether they were treated like criminals or not. They looked just happy to be with their daughter.

For their loving daughter, they brought gifts and food more than enough for days. The mother, who was wearing cheap clothes, gave her daughter an expensive sweater. She said that she didn’t care whatever she wore, but that she wanted to make sure that her daughter wouldn’t feel cold. Hearing that, the daughter hugged her mom tight. The father who stayed silent wiped his tears and said, “I’m sorry. It seems like you’re going through this hardship because I’m worthless. It breaks my heart.”

The narrator said, “The trivial round of daily life like talking with one another and having a meal together is very precious, which is unlikely to happen to this family again.” Hearing that, I burst into tears.

I am in the situation like the prisoner’s on TV. I am a prisoner, too; I sinned in heaven, and now I am confined in the earth, the city of refuge. Heavenly Father and Mother have lived the life of a sinner like mine in this city of refuge. Didn’t I become insensitive to Their life, Their love, and the fact that I’m a sinner?

The voice of a prisoner, who said that she would do anything if she could go home, still rings in my ears. I, too, will live with a mindset that I would do anything if I can go back to my heavenly home. I will overcome tribulations that are wages of my sin, and will live the life of repentance, thinking of Heavenly Parents who are preparing the feast of joy where They will eat with us at the same table.