Laura Ling is a reporter for Al Gore’s network Current TV. Her job takes her to some of the most dangerous parts of the world. Last year she and producer, Euna Lee were reporting on the thousands of Koreans who try and flee the communist regime by river. To get a better shot, they crossed on to the Korean side of the river to film, which they knew was forbidden. When they returned to the Chinese side they were captured and violently assaulted by North Korean border guards.
Oprah asks Laura to describe what and why they were doing? They never intended to cross the river, she said, they wanted to get images of the area. They worked with a guide or fixer who crossed the ice and motioned for them to follow. Oprah shows the map of the river dividing the countries. There is no wire or signs between countries, but you know that you are getting closer to North Korea, says Laura. After a minute they turned to leave and two guards came after them with rifles. They turned and ran back to China. Laura stumbled and Euna stopped to help her but the guards were upon them. Their guide got away. He did come back and he was walking very slowly, and according to Euna, he said to the guards, ‘Take me instead.’ But when they tried to grab him, he dashed off. Laura and Euna grabbed at the bushes to try to stay in China as long as they could. The guard above her kicked Laura and knocked her in the face and shoulder as he continued to drag her across the ice. The other soldier was doing the same to Euna. Laura was screaming sorry which seemed to make him more angry. He struck her on the head with the butt of his rifle and she blacked out.
North Korea cuts their citizens off from the rest of the world with no internet access, the TV is filled with government propaganda and cell phone ownership can be punishable by death. School kids are taught that America is the enemy, democracy is wrong and that communism is the only way. Kim Jong-Il is the supreme ruler who is a God-like figure, both worshipped and feared. His picture is everywhere and as the commander of one of the largest armies in the world, he is unchallenged. North Korea only allows images of military parades and happy and healthy citizens to be seen by the outside world. A video of poverty, famine and rampant disease smuggled out of the country tells a different story. Experts say thousands of North Koreans attempt to escape every year. If caught they face torture or death.
Laura was trying to cover a story on the defectors; many of the women are forced into marriages or prostitution in China, a story which neither government wants told. Laura and Euna destroyed their tapes and ate their notes when they were left alone at the beginning of the ordeal. They did whatever they could to destroy that evidence. Lisa says that North Korea controls everything, they do not want any outside information to penetrate.
They were held prisoner for almost 5 months in North Korea- they came home last August. Oprah asks Lisa if she feared that she’d never see her sister again? Lisa says that they kept hope but there was the fear that nothing was out of the question. So many things were unprecedented. Lisa called everyone that she knew, but when Oprah called her she realized the enormity of the problem, when even one of the most powerful women in the world can not help. Oprah said prayers and thought about Laura. Immediately Laura recognized that they wanted her to make a confession. She was questioned as to wether her company was connected to the government. They brought in a dossier of Lisa’s visit and asked if the two of them were trying to bring down the government. Lisa went in as part of a legal medical delegation four years ago. She didn’t tell them she was a journalist. Laura tried to downplay her family connections and did not say that Lisa was a journalist who worked for Oprah. She heard that if she confessed she might get forgiveness, and she had to trust that this was the right thing to do. She was in a cell with Euna for the first couple of days. If the slats were closed then they were just sitting in the dark. She was sentenced in June, a couple of months later. She was transferred to Pyongyang, where she was under guard but in a regular room. There were no showers. The power outages happened multiple times a day and there were water outages. She says she developed a system to wash where they would allow her to heat a kettle of water, and she would mix it with some cold water. Then she would scrub down and just splash it on. She was sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. She was petrified when she heard that. She had tried to prepare herself for a long sentence, but when she heard the words she could barely stand up. The judge said no forgiveness, no parole. Laura spiraled into a deep depression, refusing her meals and huddling into a dark corner of the room for quite a while. She had heard about the horrific conditions of the labor camps. The thought that so many innocent people were going through this gave her strength. She had thought that she might be pregnant, but when she found out she wasn’t she was crushed, she thought that she’d never get to have a family with her husband.
The story created a media firestorm, for the first time in history two American citizens were put on trial. After months of tentative negotiations, former president Bill Clinton went to meet with King Jong-Ill. When Clinton arrived, Laura was walking down the hallway with a group of North Koreans and saw a secret service agent with an earpiece. She felt the presence of her country. Clinton was like an angel come to save them. She explained to him that they had apologized and hoped that he could apologize on their behalf. He said that had been done but that their was some more to be done but he was hopeful. Laura says that he was the only person who could save them and they are so very, very grateful. When she heard that Obama may come to their aid, she said, with all due respect, they may aswell send her to the labor camp now if they thought Obama was going to come.
Oprah says that Laura’s husband Ian is the sweetest person on the world. He wrote a letter at 5pm every day, in the same spot every day and he’d take photos of himself in that spot so he could visualize everything. She says that those letters were everything, they were her oxygen. 5pm was the time she could dedicate to thinking about him.
During the whole time, Orphan asks if she was thinking, how did this happen? Laura says that she was so angry at herself, she would hit herself to punish herself for putting her family through this. Oprah asks what she says to those who criticizes her actions. She says she was their to raise awareness about the horrific conditions in North Korea and that story never got told. Lisa says that the family was devastated. She did a lot of interview and not a day went by when people would ask how her sister was doing. It was hard for her to not be able to say how her sister was doing, so she stopped going out. Their parents were a wreck. Her mom stopped showering. The hardest thing is to hear your father crying over and over, says Lisa. Oprah asks about Euna and asks why they didn’t write a book together. Euna is doing well, says Laura, she is spending time with her husband and daughter. They spent a total of six days together in captivity. Euna is writing her own book about her own story. Laura will always regard Euna as a member of their family. They talk frequently. Laura is now very pregnant, with the baby due in June. Oprah congratulates her. The book, Somewhere Inside, is in stores today.
Before the January earthquake their were about 380,000 orphans in Haiti. Experts estimate that there are now over 1 million. Conditions are unimaginable, there is little food and water, widespread disease and the threat of child slavery. Looking at those faces, some of you may want to go adopt a child, but is that the best thing, asks Oprah. A few days ago Lisa Ling followed a 7 year old girl from Haiti who has been adopted by an American family. Take a look.
At the airport, Claire is greeted with screams in California as she joins her new family. She was left as a baby in an orphanage where eleven weeks ago she was sharing a twin bed with four other orphan girls. Now she lives in a 4000 square foot home in a gated community. There is a manicured yard and a private lake and a home movie theatre with a fully stocked candy counter. Claire shows Lisa her room with her queen sized bed, plenty of toys and clothes. In Haiti she had one meal a day of rice and beans. Now she loves pancakes and ketchup together. The abundance of food is a big challenge for Claire. In the beginning it was as if every meal was her last. She’d eat till her stomach got distended and she’d throw up. It was a battle of how much food she could eat at every meal. At school there has been a lot of adjustment. She is very aggressive- in Haiti it is survival, a coping mechanism; here that behavior does not work. Each week they call the orphanage but the calls are hard on Claire. The first week she broke down in tears thinking of all the kids there. She down’t want to go back to Haiti. The family were preparing for an empty nest and now they have had a complicated change of life. It has been difficult but the rewards are far greater, says Debbie. Debbie and Scott are telling their story so people go in to an adoption with their eyes wide open. Lisa asks them to respond to the old story of a white family saving a black child. Scott says that they don’t see race, they fell in love with Claire. She has living parents but she was given up at age 1 as she was malnourished. Brandon, Claire’s brother says that it has been hard because Claire gets all the attention. Debbie says that it is very rewarding to see the changes. Scott says that they will never know what is going on in her mind. Claire has a photo of her family in her room, Debbie wants her birth family to be present in Claire’s life at all times.
11 weeks ago Claire came home with Debbie and Scott, it took them nearly 3 years to get Claire to come home with them. Debbie says that they went on a mission trip with her brother and Claire was the first little girl that they met and they really connected. It took about a week for them to hear that she was ok after the earthquake. She got a humanitarian aid visa which hastened the adoption. After the earthquake hit, there is an instinct to try to save all the children. Oprah says that is why she built a school because you can’t bring home every child. Oprah says that the children just want to be loved, they don’t care about race or color or sexual orientation. The crowd applaud. Debbie says that Claire is flourishing. Oprah asks if they have experienced racism. Debbie says that a man in the grocery store gave Claire an evil look, as if he would spit on her if they were close enough. Oprah asks what they will do when Claire is old enough to notice? Debbie’s goal is to teach her and the rest of their children to love unconditionally. They have talked about it in their family and they are all on the same page. It is important that Claire knows that she is wonderful and special and that they celebrate her culture. Oprah applauds them and says that we are all alike in our hearts but not in our hair. To see Debbie part and braid Claire’s hair makes Oprah say congratulations.
The last time Lisa was here she refused to sign the No Phone Zone Pledge, so they modified the pledge to accommodate people like Lisa. Lisa will sign to no texting. Oprah thanks her and Laura.
WHAT WE LEARNED TODAY:
Laura Ling, one of the two American journalists sentenced to 12 years hard labor in North Korea is the sister of Lisa Ling, journalist on the Oprah Show.
When Laura was captured, Lisa called everyone she knew to help, and Oprah Winfrey called her to show support.
Bill Clinton came to their rescue, like an angel, and Lisa and Laura wrote a book about the experience.
A family in California living in a gated community adopted a 7 year old from Haiti and say that at first she really struggled with the abundance of food in the house.
They have a movie theater with fully stocked candy counter in their basement.
A VERY QUICK SUMMARY:
We are all alike in our hearts but not in our hair, says Oprah. (With the possible exception of the North Korean government).