After bring caught defecting and sent to a North Korean prison, Grace Jo was eventually set free. She made her way back to China, where she was reunited with her mother and sister. The family met Korean-American missionary Pastor Phillip Buck who helped take care of them.
But they were caught again in 2005, and Grace spent a year in a Chinese prison. In 2006, the Chinese turned her and her mother and sister over to the North Koreans. They were held in the National Security Agency, where they were interrogated and tortured.
The North Koreans found out that they were Christian and knew Christian missionaries — crimes punishable by death in North Korea. To spare them, Buck paid $10,000 to North Korean security officers. The family was charged with lesser crimes and set free on the condition that they remain in North Korea.
They immediately fled the country to China, where they quickly applied for United Nations’ refugee status.
While waiting for approval, Grace and her family stayed in an apartment with around 20 other defectors in Beijing. There was a constant lingering fear among the residents that they would be sent back. Grace explained, “We couldn’t leave the house. Even though we had a kind of protected status, there was always the possibility that the Chinese police would grab us and send us back to North Korea.”
After receiving refugee status, Grace, Jinhye, and their mother came to the U.S. in 2008. Grace became a U.S. citizen in 2013.