What is life like behind bars for those who are being detained by the special prosecutor? There are 17 suspects related to the Choi Soon-sil case who are being held at 2 detention facilities: the main Seoul detention facility in Eu-Wang(의왕) in Kyungi outside the Seoul city limits and the Southern detention facility near Seoul’s Kuro(구로동) section. Like many Western detention facilities, they are Spartan accommodations. If you’re familiar with the U.S., it would be like a dormitory room or an efficiency studio at a residence hotel — only much, much smaller.
All 17 suspects are being held separately in their own cells to stop them from talking to each other and mingling with the general population. These rooms are 71 square feet (6.6 m²), about 6.5-by-11 feet. A college dorm room that accommodates 2 students in the U.S. average 228 feet² (21.2 m²). So 71 feet² is only about 63% of the personal space granted to 1 student in an average dorm room. It is not exactly Tokyo’s ‘capsule hotel’ but it is indeed a cubby hole or a rabbit hutch.
Not a capsule hotel, more like a rabbit hutch.
Each room comes with its own toilet and sink. There is a TV (not flat-screen) and a small table. There are no chairs and there is no Western-style bed. This is a Korean-style accommodation where you sit on the floor while you eat and sleep on the floor with a mattress, which is really a thick blanket than a box spring.
All detainees have to pay for their meals. It costs about $1.50 per meal and after they are done, the dishes have to be washed in the sink to be picked up. No outside food is allowed. They also have to pay for toiletries, coffee, sugar, stationery, underwear and just about everything else. There is no central heating but the floor is heated by an electric radiant heating system. Those who work in HVAC know that this type of heating does not distribute heat evenly and can be mighty uncomfortable — this is not exactly Korea’s acclaimed ‘ondol-style’ heating (온돌). As a result, there is usually ice build-up on the window, which has traditional bar grating. Because it is so freezing, most detainees are reportedly wearing long underwear. For example, Choi Soon-sil, Ahn Jong-beom and Cha Eun-taek have all purchased winter underwear.
Most detainees have purchased long underwear(겨울내의) to cope with unevenly distributed heat from the electric radiant floor heating system.
— 고동 (@sweetsexual) December 3, 2016
There is no access to hot tap water. But a limited amount of hot water is put in water jugs and provided to detainees for coffee and tea. This isn’t really hot or boiling water but lukewarm water. So you won’t have a cup of piping hot coffee. But you can presumably wash your face with it.
Bathing is limited to twice per week — this is Korean style communal bathing in a large bath tub. This is probably the only time the detainees will mingle with others. It is not clear if there are actually shower facilities — they are available at other detention facilities but perhaps not here. But bathing is only twice a week. So there is a good chance that the detainees reporting to the special prosecutor’s office never had the chance to bathe or freshen up with warm water from their prior visit.
We have noted that some detainees have changed their eyewear. For example, Cho Yoon-sun wore rimless eyeglasses and Kim Ki-choon changed his metal-rim eyeglasses with plastic-frame ones. This is because metallic substances and sharp edges are banned. Metal frames can be separated and used as a weapon against other detainees. For those in solitary confinement, the ban is designed to prevent suicides. The eyewear rule was actually relaxed in 2004 to allow metal rims and eye wires. However, the end pieces and temples of eyeglasses must be plastic.
Kim Ki-choon changed his eyeglasses from metal to plastic rim when he reported to detention.
김기춘이 금속테 안경을 뿔테 안경으로 바꿨다는 것도 뉴스가 되는군요. 구치소에서는 금속 물체는 반입이 안되는 규정. 치밀하게 구속 예감하는 걸까요? https://t.co/Cjv7LAeDjq
— 김진애 (@jk_space) January 20, 2017
Like many U.S. facilities, each detainee is searched and screened carefully before entering the facility. The Korean Internet has been buzzing with rumors of strip searches that the detainees had to undergo. There have been rampant speculations that former culture minister Cho Yoon-sun and former attorney general and justice minister Kim Ki-choon have had their body cavities searched. It is true but not in the manner in which most people had expected (or hoped), as we explain below. Furthermore, this practice is no different from the searches done in Western penitentiaries to stop the inflow of contraband like drugs and weapons.
In recent years, prisoner rights have become a sensitive issue in South Korea. Human rights organizations have been putting pressure on law enforcement agencies to stop intrusive body cavity searches. Therefore, according to Hankyoreh, searches of intimate body parts like anal cavities are being done remotely with an electronic device — not, as many had suspected (and hoped), digitally. An electronic device to scan intimate body cavities sounds like something Samsung would invent and hold patents on. Speaking of Samsung, the company’s vice chairman, Lee Jae-yong, also had to undergo this body cavity search while spending 15 hours at the facility on January 18-19th to see if he will have to be detained indefinitely.
"It was long 14 hours," said Samsung vice chair Lee Jae-yong when he was freed from detention.
So what are the detainees doing to pass their time? Since all are in solitary confinement, they can’t while away the time shooting the breeze with each other. Plus there is no Internet and no computers are allowed. So most are spending their time reading and studying. Cha Eun-taek, as we reported in our prior piece, is a music video director accused of coercion and embezzlement. Cha is studying English on his own and brought in some 20 books with titles such as “How to Memorize English Vocabulary Words,” “English Self-Study 101,” and “Basic English Conversation.”
Kim Jong is the vice minister of South Korea’s Culture, Sports and Tourism. He is doing something most prisoners in the U.S. are encouraged to do when they go to the big house — he is reading the Bible.
Kim Jong is reading the Good Book while in detention.