Brother One Cell - Coming of Age in South Korea's Prisons

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2007, 12:00am

Brother One Cell - Coming of Age in South Korea's Prisons

by Cullen Thomas

Sedgwick & Jackson, HK$176

Cullen Thomas is a stupid American who owes a lot to the South Korean prosecutor who pretended to believe that the kilogram of hashish he posted to himself in Seoul from the Philippines was for personal consumption. The prosecutor was fascinated with the American, as were jailers and inmates. Their prisons are neither terrifying nor violent places, but the 31/2-year sentence was physically tough. In winter, the ink in his pen froze in the unheated cell. The food was mostly low-grade rice and kimchi and Thomas became ill with parasites and some nasty skin ailments. But the writer also meets a Tolstoy-reading Colombian gem smuggler, who teaches him how to survive, and a Peruvian thief who steals luggage from airports and hotels and who tells him exciting tales. Thomas has an easy, honest style that makes even the boredom fascinating. What makes Brother One Cell work is how the 23-year-old turns his arrest to his advantage, learning a life of asceticism and rationalising it all in a way his explorer hero, Richard Burton, might have understood. 'I'd entered a forbidden city, lived among a bizarre and wondrous people, gained knowledge of a province previously unknown to my race.'



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