Striking a blow against juvenile crime

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Striking a blow against juvenile crime

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Above: Song Il-woo with one of his trophies. Right: Song landing a punch on a fellow inmate.[JoongAng Ilbo]

A ray of sunshine lit up the Cheonan Juvenile Correction Center as 11 members of the facility’s boxing club began their afternoon training last month. Two young men started to spar, exchanging strong but controlled punches.
Song Il-woo, 21, threw a right hook. He has fought his way up to become the super featherweight champion, knocking out three opponents in a row at the 2007 Pro-boxing Newcomer’s Match on Feb. 23. “I was happy that I could keep my promise to my coach,” said Mr. Song, whose goal is to become the Korean champion during the 15 months he will remain in prison. He said his bouts do not feel like fighting but more like a sport in which opponents approach each other with mutual respect. “Fights are pointless, but boxing has regulations. You have to rest every three minutes and stop when the judge says so.”
Cheonan Juvenile Corrections Center is currently the only jail with a boxing club. Other jails have refrained from having one because of the prejudice that boxing “teaches bad people how to fight.” However, Choi Han-ki, 50, the manager of the boxing club, said the discipline of the sport helps to rehabilitate offenders. “I’ve rarely seen anyone who learned boxing with me return here after committing a crime.” According to Mr. Choi, boxing teaches inmates to respect rules and regulations. Members of the boxing club do not participate in inmate brawls either.
When Mr. Song was first detained, he saw on TV that a Cheonan inmate had reached the rank of champion newcomer in 2003. The inmate, who wished only to be identified by his surname Park, was a member of the Cheonan Juvenile Corrections Center boxing club. Mr. Song saw a part of himself reflected in Mr. Park, who was shown having a reunion with his parents. “I thought then that I could make amends for my bad behavior to my parents,” said Mr. Song. However, taking up boxing was not as easy as he thought. He had to undergo intense physical training, such as running around the facility’s exercise yard 30 times a day, and he had to eat one block of tofu every day for a week prior to the weigh-in.
Boxing gave Mr. Song something to look forward to. Instead of passively awaiting his release, he trained to fulfill his dream of becoming a world champion. His new goals have led to improvement in other areas of his life.
During his prison sentence he finished his secondary and high school studies by taking a qualification exam, and last month he received a diploma from Baekseok College of Cultural Studies through a program developed by the corrections center. His plan after his release is to set up a street stall and continue boxing.


By Lee Chung-hyung JoongAng Ilbo [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

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