South Korea is one of the most over-worked nations in the world. Koreans have started taking extreme measures to escape their busy lifestyles, and one retreat center is offering a unique way to relax.
CGTN’s Shane Hahm found out why some Koreans are trading their work cubicle for a jail cell.
You won’t find any convicted felons or hardened criminals at Hongcheon’s South Korean jail. Instead, inmates at the facility enter voluntarily.
They’re locked in cells for 20 hours a day, without any contact with the outside world. No phones, instant messengers or computers are allowed.
The complex is the brainchild of Kwon Yong-seok. As a former prosecutor, Kwon worked 100-hour weeks, which began wearing on him both physically and mentally.
That’s when he and his wife decided to create the facility, called ‘Prison Inside Me. ‘
“My husband was overworked by his career. He always said he wanted to spend a week in prison solitary confinement. That was the initial idea,” explained Noh Ji-hyang, co-founder of Prison Inside Me. “We put the idea into action after realizing that many people leading a modern lifestyle needed a place like this.”
Prisoners of all ages and from all walks of life come to the facility for spiritual healing, and all inmates must follow a strict regimen. The day begins at 6 a.m. sharp, as the chant of a Buddhist monk blares through the speakers. Meals are handed out at scheduled times, through door cubby holes.
Each cell is about five square meters in size and comes equipped with a window, heated floors, a small table with some writing instruments, a tea set, and a yoga mat. There’s even a panic button in case of an emergency.
South Korea is one of the most overworked nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Workers clock in about 2,000 hours annually, some 300 hours more than the OECD average.
“It’s good to get plenty of rest and have time to myself. I was on my own time. As a work assistant, I always put my bosses first. But this made me realize I should spend more time on self-reflection,” Participant Ryu Seon-mi said.
“I’ve been at my current job for six months, and in that time, I’ve been driving forward without any rest. Through this opportunity, my mind has been able to recover, and I hope to keep going forward with this mentality,” Participant Kim Jeong-woo said.
Despite the jail-like atmosphere, operators say the purpose of the facility isn’t confinement or incarceration.
“A person’s internal prison could be based on past experiences, one’s own disposition, personal relationships, or actions. Our goal is to help people discover and escape from those obstacles,” Ji-hyang explained.
Many inmates at the facility are repeat offenders, coming back to the retreat on numerous occasions. But unlike actual prison, they’re more than happy to return.