It seems fitting that Charles Jenkins, a man who lived in such seclusion for four decades that most people forgot he existed, can now be found in one of the most inaccessible places in Japan: the remote ex-prison island of Sado where he shares a small house with his wife, Hitomi, and daughters Brinda and Mika. A shy man, Mr Jenkins' whole demeanour, from the sad, wary eyes encased in a heavily creased and lined face to the apologetic body language, seems crumpled, worn out from the 39 years he spent as a cold war trophy in North Korea and the daily effort of having to readjust now, aged 66, to a different life. 'I got used to North Korea. You get beat in the face every day and you're expecting it,' he said in his thick southern drawl. 'You don't care no more.' Mr Jenkins' extraordinary life reads like a spy novel and can be divided, like the best drama, into three distinct acts. The first was his upbringing in a poor, working-class community in North Carolina, where he dropped out of school, aged 15, to join the US Army. Act one ended on a January night in 1965 when, drunk and unhappy, he deserted his post in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that divides the two Koreas and defected to the North. He refers to that act as 'the biggest mistake I ever made'. So began act two behind the bamboo curtain, where he claims he was beaten, starved and robbed of his identity, eventually becoming Min Hyung-chang. He was saved, he says, by Hitomi Soga, the Japanese woman he married, and who was 19 when she was abducted with her mother by Pyongyang's spies in 1978. His wife's mother has never been found, but Mr Jenkins believes she was murdered. 'I think they hit her on the head and threw her in the sea,' he said. 'I know the way those guys work. They don't leave no witnesses.' Now Mr Jenkins is in what seems certain to be the final act of his life, which began in September 2002, when an astonished world learned of this Rip Van Winkle figure in the wake of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's groundbreaking summit with Kim Jong-il. Mr Jenkins stayed behind with his daughters when Pyongyang allowed his wife and four other Japanese to return home after admitting to its bizarre kidnapping programme. It took 21 months to reunite the family, during which Mr Koizumi's loose strategy for normalising relations with Pyongyang fell apart amid a hardening of nationalist sentiment on both sides. Finally though, after half a lifetime being buffeted between cold war rivals, Mr Jenkins and his wife were both free. Today, he lives on a stipend from the Japanese government and on the proceeds of his Japanese book. His house is a short walk from the spot where North Korean spies snatched his wife and her mother while walking home from a shopping trip. He wonders if something similar could happen to him now. 'My life is not worth five cents, I know that,' he said. 'I don't think they have the nerve to come and get me, but they could assassinate me with a bullet through the head from a distance. But if it happens, everything I have written will come out.' The ex-sergeant served 25 days in a US military brig in 2004 after being dishonorably discharged for desertion and is thought to have bartered his freedom with his knowledge of the North. 'I was told that they had an agent in North Korea for over 20 years that didn't give them one tenth of what I gave them.' Mr Jenkins told the US he 'would not be surprised' if Pyongyang had a nuclear weapon. 'Close to my house was a mountain and Russia put missiles in there,' he said. 'Everybody knew that. Nobody goes up there or talks about it, but they're all aimed at Japan and South Korea.' He also criticised the country he left in 1965. 'In my opinion, America made its first mistake when it didn't give North Korea the power plant it promised in the 1990s,' he said. 'America went back on its word. From that time on, relations got worse. America made me its enemy. I was the one hurting, just like in North Korean right now it's the people who are hurting.' While life in the Stalinist country has been illuminated by the stories of other defectors, Mr Jenkins' account adds important detail. He describes a heavily militarised state where 'everyone was in the army' and which controlled everything from loose talk to bedrooms. He claims he was not free to choose a sexual partner, to talk to others or even to invite others for a private drink at home. 'People get drunk and start talking and then disappear into concentration camps,' he said. Mr Jenkins secretly indulged his love of American rock'n'roll by taking a screwdriver to his radio, which was fixed so it couldn't be tuned to South Korean FM. He hid a stash of tapes and movies under a false bottom in his wardrobe and watched US movies by 'hanging a blanket over the window'. Above all though, it is the poverty he remembers most. 'We had rice and you'd wash it four of five times and it would still come out grey,' he said. 'It was full of bugs, rocks; four or five years old. You cook it and still break your teeth on the rocks.' In the 1990s, Chinese and Russian support fell, sending the North spiraling into a deadly famine. Mr Jenkins said he stopped eating sausages after discovering they contained rat meat and claimed he was offered sexual favours in return for food. 'My friend was a technician and he said: take my wife.' He said Pyongyang was grooming his daughters to become spies. His handlers became desperate when their mother announced in 2003 that she was staying in Japan. 'They offered me a new 26-year-old bride if I forgot her and stayed with my daughters,' he said. 'They were never going to let me go because I knew too much.' When the family reunited in 2004, a Japanese broadcaster said Ms Soga's 'dream had finally come true'. Sadly, sources close to the family said the transition to life in Japan was a struggle. Mr Jenkins speaks no Japanese and must use Korean to communicate with his family, a situation he described as difficult. 'I've spoken more Korean than I have English. Sometimes I even think in Korean.' He spends a lot of time at home alone watching American movies, while his wife works in a Sado City office. 'They live separate lives,' said one source. The city wants him to become a tourist guide, but Mr Jenkins' age and heavy accent would make it a challenge. His daughters, meanwhile, have settled down after a trip to the US last year to visit his ailing mother. But moving back there is out of the question. 'That would look bad in Japan.' Inevitably, the subject of divorce with Ms Soga, who is 19 years younger, has come up. 'I told her, 'If you want to kick me out, do it now',' said Mr Jenkins tearfully. 'She said if we divorce, what about Brinda and Mika? That would be hard on them. So she told me she wouldn't divorce me.' It is hard to escape the impression of a man who is still not in control of his life, trapped now by the past and a sense of obligation to the country he believes saved him from dying in North Korea. 'I'll always be grateful,' he said. Is there anything he wants to do before he dies? 'I wish I could speak directly to [North Korean President] Kim [Jong-il],' he said. 'But I promised America I would have nothing ever again to do with North Korea.'