Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller are the latest Americans released from North Korea
North Korea released Jeffrey Fowle last month; he had hoped Bae, Miller would be with him
Fowle says he would tell the newly released Americans "to keep the faith"
Another former N. Korean detainee, Euna Lee, says the 2 probably want "mundane days"
Jeffrey Fowle never met Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller. But he’s been in their shoes.
Just three weeks ago, Fowle – like his fellow Americans, Bae and Miller – was detained in North Korea. Within a half-hour of his release, he was on a plane leaving the isolated East Asian nation.
“On the ride to the airport … I was hoping they’d be on the plane as well,” Fowle said Saturday. “I got there, and they said I was the only one coming home.”
No more. On Saturday, the U.S. government announced that Bae and Miller will soon be joining Fowle on American soil after being released.
Now in Ohio, Fowle wonders why it didn’t happen sooner and why he was let go first, despite the fact Bae and Miller were detained before him.
“Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller should have been released before I was,” Fowle told CNN. “But I’m glad to hear that they’re on their way home.”
It’s too early to say what their lives will be like back home. Miller has been held since April. For Bae, it has been nearly two years.
Euna Lee, who was released from North Korea in 2009 after being detained for 140 days, said she wanted to return not just to her home, but to normal.
“You can imagine that that doesn’t happen,” Lee said. “But that’s what, I’m sure, they want to probably have, (to) just come back to regular, mundane days.”
Conditions vary for detainees, but all isolated
Numerous Americans have been detained over the years in North Korea, though that’s not to say that they’ve all had identical experiences.
Of the three released in the past few weeks, it appears Bae had it worst.
The married father of three from Lynwood, Washington, moved to China in 2005. A year later, he established “Nations Tour,” a China-based tour company that specialized in tours of North Korea.
A devout Christian, Bae was in Rason, an area along the northeastern coast of North Korea, when authorities arrested him in November 2012. U.S. officials confirmed Bae’s detention the next month. The following May, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for “hostile acts” against the Communist nation, and spent time in a labor camp, as well as a hospital.
And Miller got six years of hard labor in September for “acts hostile” to North Korea, all because he had ripped up his tourist visa and shouted his desire to seek asylum after arriving in the country, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.
Fowle received no such sentence after leaving a Bible at a club in northern North Korea, which he admitted doing.
While also accused of “perpetrating hostile acts,” and while he – like Bae and Miller – told CNN he signed documents admitting his guilt, Fowle said he didn’t spend time in a jail or at a labor camp. Instead, he spent time in a high-rise hotel and a hospitality center since his detention last spring.
Lee said that being cut off from the world is a major punishment in itself, with or without harsh conditions.
“Being isolated in a foreign country is very difficult,” she said. “(Having) no communication with family members or the outside world (makes) it even more hard.”
Former detainee: ‘I’d tell them to keep the faith’
Thankfully, that won’t be a struggle any more for Bae and Miller. If past releases are any indication, they’ll soon be hugging and kissing family members back in the United States, then going off to spend time with loved ones.
“What they really need is people around them (and in the public who) can continually give them positive attention, until they are fully recovered from this attention and isolation,” Lee said.
Fowle said that his transition home was eased by the fact he got his old job back home in Ohio.
That would seem impossible for Bae, who’s been gone longer and whose business was predicated on traveling to North Korea, as Fowle fully admits.
Still, he believes that both Bae and Miller – if they can survive months detained in North Korea – can survive and thrive in their return home as well.
Asked what he would say now to his two fellow Americans, Fowle said, “I’d tell them to keep the faith.”