House of Unification

: Unconverted Long Term Prisoners Portrait
1998 - 2004

This Project is a continuation of work I have done since 1998 on this group of prisoners And reflects my general interest in the individual’s relationship to history and society. The Unconverted Long Term Prisoners were mostly people who had been convicted of involve in the leftist movement in Korea after the liberation from Japan until Korean War, as well as those Who were sent from as spies to South Korea from the North during the 50’s and 60’s. These people refused to sign the conversion statement during the national Security law application and enforcement process and spent thirty to fourty-five years in prison.

In the early 1970s, there were about 450 unconverted prisoners left in South Korea. The Ideological Conversion System became full-scale after the Revitalizing Reform system went in effect in 1973. South Korea government promised first murders and violent criminals parole if they succeeded in converting the Unconverted Long Term Prisoners. These Prisoners were locked in prison cells that were one meter wide and three meter long. They were assaulted, tortured and denied medical treatments. Even dead prisoners were ”converted” through use of their fingerprints. During this process, more than half were converted and approximately 70 people either died or commited suicide. Of all the prisoners, about 80 people remained incarcerated. After 1990, those who were 70 years old and had served more than 30 years were released.

Stories of these people are a living reality of the Korea peninsula and the most notable by-product of the Separation. My work, which lasted about six years, recorded meeting with seventy of those prisoners in writing, and in about 6,000 black and white photographs. In September 2000, 63 out of those 80 prisoners were sent back to North Korea where their families still lived. During this process, I have learned many historical facts that had been buried deep.

▲ Top