Erin Kelly recounts the story of Jeffrey Fowle and two other Americans who were recently detained in North Korea.
The feeling of being alone is one of overwhelming proportions. It can either be the sum of fear—or the culmination of relief, perhaps even relaxation. With that feeling, however, comes the realization that something isn’t right.
You get the feeling your ship is sinking. Your heart drops so hard and fast that your beacon of hope that once burned so brightly begins to fade. Everything else around you seems to shatter, and you’re left to float to shore. The fact that everything has shattered may be the very reason you feel alone. By the same token, it could be the reason why you need to be alone.
In that particular instance, the feeling of solidarity is a conscious choice—but what happens when you no longer have that choice?
Jeffrey Fowle knows firsthand what happens.
According to a recent article from National Public Radio (NPR), 56-year-old Fowle is the only one of three Americans detainees who has been freed from North Korea after being held in detainment for an undisclosed total number of months. However, the report did note that Fowle had been held captive by North Korean authorities since June of this year.
While all three detainees reportedly entered the country as mere tourists, Fowle was detained because he left a Bible in his North Korean hotel room. The majority of the country’s media sources consistently projected the claim that he “acted in violation of [North Korean] law, contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay.”
The Oct. 21 article from NPR also stated that the remaining two detainees—Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller—will remain in captivity. However, President Obama’s cabinet has reportedly been taking action here in the States, as White House press secretary Josh Earnest commented on the situation:
“While this [release of Jeffrey Fowle] is a positive decision by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we remain focused on the continued detention of Kenneth and Matthew, and will call on the DPRK to immediately release them.”
State Department Deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf also released a statement earlier this month—saying that Washington has tried to send a plea to North Korea for months in an attempt to negotiate the release of all three men.
To give even more of a national perspective on this, Frank Langfitt of NPR weighed in as well. He reported back in June that Fowle “worked repairing the streets in Ohio” and arrived in Korea in April. The US State Department later issued a warning to the entire nation—urging all Americans not to cross the North Korean border due to the high risk of detainment.
I find myself looking at this scenario from two very different angles—as a journalistic writer and as a Korean-American who was adopted from the country.
I was born on a street in Korea and have cerebral palsy, presumably because my birthmother didn’t have access to proper prenatal care. While I’ll never know if that had anything to do with the way Korea is governed, I’m still aware that there’s a certain point where culture and customs collide—as they do in many other countries around the world. I understand why that’s likely to never change.
There’s just so many other things going on in Korea right now that I was somewhat surprised this whole issue involving Fowle, Bae and Miller started over a Bible. If anything, that Bible should’ve put up enough of a red flag to let Korean customs know that it meant something to Fowle. If he was preaching about religion, perhaps I could better understand the logic behind his detainment. The fact is—there’s no real evidence that proves he was preaching, except that he left his Bible in his hotel room. If that points to any type of evidence, it should indicate that religion played a certain significant role in Fowle’s life.
However, I think there’s a certain point where one has to move beyond beliefs and opinions to consider their mental well-being, as well as their physical stamina. It’s true that being left alone can cause fear and a range of other emotions. I think it’s valid also to say that any number of symptoms, illnesses or even disabilities can develop as a result of being isolated for too long—but what about the will to survive?
So much of hardship in its purest—and sometimes gruesome forms—is about survival. Jeffrey Fowle—along with countless others in society who have been unwillingly put in impossible situations—is a living testament to that. The two men who are still reportedly in detainment deserve some recognition, too.
Sometimes survival is just as much about what’s going on on the inside as it is about what’s happening on the outside. It can be calm, quiet or quivering.
Whether you’re alone or in a crowd, you’ll know when it’s time to put your head down and push through—no matter what.Photo: Jeffrey Fowle/AP