Dear Johnny,

They kept her in a dark room. I knew she wasn’t far since I could hear her scream and cry. She would sometimes whisper to me.

There was a Traitor chained with us. We never realized it because he acted like everyone else around here. But the Guru had given him a special mission. He had become the executioner so that the Guru would have no blood on his hands if things went awry. Because of this, he had the freedom to unlock himself at any time.

Ever since she was thrown in that room, the Traitor would wait until we were all asleep to unlock his chains and go in that room to beat her up.

He seemed like the most vulnerable of us… and I wanted to protect him… I was fooled.

Her only sin was that she refused to put on the chains. They hadn’t played their cards well enough to subdue her. She knew it wasn’t normal. So they forced her into that room. She didn’t have any chains but she did receive the occasional beating. They would also knock on the walls and the door once in a while to make her think that they were coming for her and entertain the terror. They tried to break her and make her, and us, think that she was the reason why we were here. They wanted to make an example out of her, to show us what happens when you don’t obey or when try to run away.

Several months ago, a man tried to run from North Korea to South Korea. North Korean soldiers tried to stop him. They shot him several times. He made it to the south and survived. Our situation is akin to that. If you’re a defector you will be shot at and if they catch you alive, they will put you in a dark room and beat you. They’ll force the notion that they are in charge, not you. And everyone else will be reminded of the risks of betraying the Guru.

I first realized that this wasn’t normal when they threw her in that room. I saw the whole scene. It didn’t make sense to me. She had done nothing wrong. Yet she was treated worst than us.

Then it all came into light. Things I had burried. Things I had forgotten. Like a missing puzzle piece. I had been in that room before. I had been beaten before. I was a child. I just gave up and accepted the shackles. We all did. And she didn’t. All the while the Traitor sat silent. Now I understand why.

Last night, when everyone was asleep, I broke my shackles and started running. I wasn’t sure I had waited enough but the Traitor heard me talking to her. He had to react before I even thought of running away. He got up in front of me and told me I had to sit back down, that I was a part of this chain and that I couldn’t just leave because he needed me to stay. He claimed that the Guru needed me to stay. He told me the world was crazy, that I was better here. He told me not to listen to her because she was paranoid, ungrateful and cruel, that she had upset the Guru and that he would not stand for it. I looked down and his ankles were free. He wasn’t trying to be good to us. He was ready to kill us if needed. He was a North Korean soldier.

He walked to the room and slammed the door opened. She screamed and cried of fear and exhaustion. He entered the room and beat her while telling me how evil and crazy she was. He told me she was trying to isolate me from them.

I told him to stop as I wouldn’t stand for it and I would definitely leave. He stopped for a second. I told him that the Guru was evil and that we weren’t free at all. That the world wasn’t crazy and neither was she. I told him I couldn’t take it anymore.

He called the Guru and told him everything that had been going on, what had been said and done.

The Guru looked at me and told me he understood. He took my chains in his hand and told me that I had always been free while trying to lock my ankles back.

I moved aside. The Guru was surprised. I would usually let him lock me down just like when I was a kid. I would try to protect and please him. I would try to play the role he had given me hoping that I wouldn’t get the same treatment she did. But not this time. She had opened my eyes. She had shone a light on something I couldn’t see before.

I couldn’t blow this chance so I played nice. I told the Guru that I appreciated all that he had done and that I was happy he understood. I told him that I now knew this wasn’t a normal life. That he should get help.

I grabbed her by the wrist and we ran. The Traitor screamed that I would be back someday. But we just ran.

See Johnny, I was never free. She taught me what freedom was. She made me see that those bruises, burns and blisters were not normal. That people in the real world did not have shackles. That they didn’t have to please a Guru.

The first thing we did was try to get used to the light. We’re still trying to do that. Sometimes we get mad at one another but we know it’s just because we’re getting used to all of this.

At first I felt like my lungs were made of concrete. I was petrified. Now for the first time I feel like I can breathe better.

But after all of this we’re just kind of free. Because you don’t walk away from this unharmed. But now that my chains are gone, my feet feel lighter. The air is clean and pure. The sun is comfortingly warm. She is walking beside me. We’re the only ones who can tell this tale. Now we can try to heal.

– Dean.