Message of love and forgiveness
Have you ever heard of a prison stay? Just like the temple stay, it is an experience of contemplating the meaning of life in jail. The participants are locked up in a solitary cell and face themselves honestly. There are reasons for calling prisons “school.”
In fact, many people turned the prison into a place of learning. The most notable case is former South African President Nelson Mandela.
More than 10 years ago, I visited the prison in Robben Island during a business trip to South Africa. After a 30-minute boat ride from Cape Town, I arrived at the island of penguins and seals. Here, Mandela spent 17 years of his 27 years of imprisonment. Upon looking around the solitary cell where Mandela was imprisoned, I arrived where prisoners did hard labor. The guide called it “Mandela school.” In the dusty worksite, the antiapartheid activist taught young prisoners the history of South Africa and democracy.
The prison was a school for Mandela himself. After protesting against the reading ban in prison, he was able to indulge in reading.
Shin Young-bok, the Sungkonghoe University emeritus professor who passed away on Jan. 15, was into reading while in prison. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for being part of the Unification Revolution Party and read books for 20 years.
Both Mandela and Shin were imprisoned for life and spent more than 20 years in prison. Shin wrote “Reflections from Prison,” a collection of letters and essays written during imprisonment, and it is a classic in the Korean publishing industry. Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” is also an international best-seller.
Shin must have identified with Mandela and made a visit to Robben Island. He wrote an essay of his impression, comparing the importance of racial integration to the black and white keys on a piano.
Moreover, both Mandela and Shin advocated forgiveness despite severe oppression. When Mandela became president, he invited the white prison guards to his inauguration and invited a notorious intelligence chief to a dinner banquet. He offered a hand first. And he created the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and granted amnesty to those who testified and repented.
Shin shared the same idea. In his book “Together Forest,” he wrote, “History can finally progress through true forgiveness.”
Society is filled with hatred and blaming. The passing of Professor Shin could be a chance for love and forgiveness replace hatred and accusation in the hearts of everyone.
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 18, Page 31
by NAM JEONG-HO