Kenneth Bae is the longest-held U.S. citizen detained in North Korea since the Korean War. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for committing “hostile acts” in the country.
“I worked from 8 a.m. to 6 pm. at night, working on the field, carrying rock, shoveling coal,” Bae said on CNN’s “New Day.” Adding to the physical pain was the verbal abuse he received from North Korean officials, Bae said. He said one prosecutor repeatedly told him, “‘No one remembers you. You have been forgotten by people, your government. You’re not going home anytime soon. You’ll be here for 15 years. You’ll be 60 before you go home.’”
Still, Bae held out hope. “I certainly hoped when I was in North Korea … that some day I’ll be able to come home and celebrate with the friends and family that have been praying, rooting for my release,” he said.
His wish came true in November 2014 after a top U.S. official–carrying a letter from President Barack Obama–arrived in North Korea. Shortly afterward, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered Bae’s release.
It was Bae’s faith that helped him deal with the physical and verbal agony. “Along the way, I found my way adjusting to life in the North Korean prison, just depending on God,” he said.
Bae’s imprisonment gained widespread publicity after former basketball star Dennis Rodman–who once called the North Korean leader a friend and “very good guy”–lambasted Bae on CNN’s “New Day” in 2014. Rodman provoked outrage after suggesting that Bae may have done something to deserve his sentence of 15 years of hard labor. Rodman later apologized, saying he had been drinking.
But Bae thanked Rodman for his 2014 outburst, saying it drew attention to his ordeal in North Korea. “I thank Dennis Rodman for being a catalyst for my release,” Bae said Monday.
Bae’s memoir, which will be published HarperCollins’ Christian-themed division, will likely have strong religious undertones. “One thing I want people to take away from reading the book is God’s faithfulness,” Bae said. “After I was released, I was reminded that God has not forgotten the people of North Korea.”