In the time remaining, Euna and I discussed how we would continue on with our tale about being students. We decided we would tell the authorities we were graduate students at the University of California, Los Angeles, film department, and that Mitch Koss was our professor. So far, we hadn't met a single person who spoke English. We were far from the capital, and I hoped it would be difficult to get a translator and that they would allow us to remain together. That way, we could keep our stories straight.

The day was far from over, but already it seemed like the longest one of my life. My head was pulsating. I was so fatigued that my worries and nervousness subsided. All I wanted was sleep. I closed my eyes for a brief moment, before forcing myself awake. I became concerned that because of my injury, if I dozed off, I might fall into a state of unconsciousness. I pinched myself to stay alert. I tried to comfort Euna by telling her we would be okay, that North Korea had more to gain by keeping us alive than dead. I told her I didn't think we'd be sent to jail, but would probably be placed under some sort of house arrest. A few hours later these words would come back to haunt me.

So far, the people we'd encountered had seemed suspicious of us but relatively compassionate. I feared being moved to another location where the people might not be as kind. As dusk approached, new authorities arrived to transport us to another facility. By this time, we were supposed to have been on an airplane heading to another Chinese city. Instead we were prisoners inside North Korea.

We were blindfolded again, handcuffed, and crammed in the backseat of an SUV between two officials. We were told to look down and not to speak with one another. Silence ensued. We traveled over bumpy terrain for what seemed like thirty minutes before arriving at the place where we would end up being interrogated and held for the next three nights. Euna was taken out of the car first. We'd been together all day, able to console and confide in each other. Now we were separated, and a sense of anxiety rushed over me. A soldier removed my handcuffs, pushed my head down, and led me into the building.

We'd been transported to a jail. Before entering the building, the soldier motioned for me to take off my shoes. He then unlocked a door that led into a small, dim area that housed a row of four cramped cells. The soldier removed a heavy lock from one of cells, opened the door, and directed me into the dismal five-by-six-foot chamber. The deep echo of the door shutting and the lock clashing up against it made my skin crawl. Rather than having metal bars that allow one to see into each cell, these chambers were fashioned with heavy metal doors. There were two postcard-size slots in each door, one at the top for a guard to look through, and one at the bottom through which a small bowl of food could be placed. If the slots were closed, the room was pitch-black. Fortunately, a sliver of light entered my cell through an opening in the upper slot, and I could make out a thin pallet of wood on the concrete floor along with a pillow and two blankets. I sat down, buried my face in my hands, and began to sob.

I thought of Lisa, my parents, and my husband, Iain, and the horror they must be feeling not knowing where I was or if I was even alive. While in Seoul and China, I had managed to speak with Iain via webcam. But the time of our usual chat sessions had long passed. He must know that something was wrong.

Find out what how Laura was freed from North Korea

What you need to know about North Korea's humanitarian crisis
FROM: Held Captive for 140 Days: Lisa Ling's Sister Breaks Her Silence
Published on May 18, 2010


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