My name is Daniel. I was an English teacher in Seoul, South Korea, and am now a writer who has
published three books including South Korea: Our Story by Daniel Nardini.
I have actually visited a U.S. prison. I visited a friend at the time who was
guilty of assault. Yes, I had to pass through a number of security checkpoints—it was a prison. The
guards were less than friendly, and all movements were closely monitored so that no prisoner could
ever get a chance to escape. Despite this, I was able to see the guy I knew, I was able to talk to him,
and overall he looked pretty well and had his own cell. We were not separated by any barrier (i.e. a
window), and we were allowed to talk freely and without any guards nearby to hear our conversation.
There were vending machines, both in the waiting room and within the prison itself. The prison was
kept extra clean and all prisoners had their own toilets and sinks as well as bunk beds and TV sets.
Am I saying that this is a model prison? No, it was far from being one. My “friend” at the time told me
that fights did occur, that guards could indeed be brutal (although he explained that this was rare),
and that prisoners were violent and dangerous for the most part. Only those prisoners who were
reasonably behaved could have the privileges of being in the courtyard, doing work, and being
able to play games or have library privileges. I remember my friend, John, who is a police officer,
telling me that prisoners are served three meals a day, could go to the commissary to buy
things like snacks and sodas, and if they really wanted to study to earn a high school or even
college degree. He used to work as a state prison guard, so he knew what prisoners would get.
One prisoner even told him once that he committed a crime so that he could be put in prison
because he was homeless and had no job and nowhere to go. I have heard of people trying to
break out of a prison, but break into one? This could not be more of the opposite of the story of
one person I knew in China who was put into a Chinese prison. His crime? Playing a card game
where he and his friends gambled for just a few cents. When the police raided the game, my
Chinese friend had won the equivalent of U.S. two dollars. He was found guilty and sentenced to
two years—one year for each dollar he won. He was kicked around, tortured and barely fed at all.
His family had to bring food or otherwise he would have starved. He was put into a small cell
with 15 other men, and they only had a hole in the ground for a “toilet.” They were forced to work
15 hours a day, and given no break (they certainly were not paid for their work). In the end, this
poor man was half-broken after two years on that hell. I am not saying that any prison is good.
They are all hell. However, some are far, far more hellish than others.