In Camp 14, it isn’t uncommon for entire families to be executed. Usually, the executed parents’ children are never seen again. However, Shin has suggested to Harden that he was allowed to return to camp because he’d proven himself to be a reliable snitch.
Shin was spared further torture because he’d proven himself useful to the guards: he could perhaps help the guards preserve order and discipline at the prison camp.
Soon after returning to camp, Shin’s teacher—whose name, after two years, Shin still doesn’t know—confronts him. He wants to know why Shin didn’t go to him with the information about his family’s escape. Although Shin explains that he didn’t wanted to wait, his teacher is unsympathetic, and beats him in front of the class.
Shin’s teacher was angry that Shin didn’t tell him about his mother’s escape plan—however, it’s entirely possible that he would have betrayed Shin in exactly the same way as the night guard did.
On his second day back in school, Shin is sent to pull a cart of straw. The work re-opens some of his wounds, but he doesn’t dare complain, because his teacher has insisted that he work extra hard to atone for his family’s sins. In coming weeks, Shin’s peers begin to bully him, taking their cues from the teacher. Before being sent to prison, Shin was friendly with Hong Joo Hyun, the grade leader—a position that permitted Hong to hit anyone in his grade on the school’s authority. After prison, however, Hong begins to beat Shin for lagging behind. Once, he beats Shin with a shovel.
Throughout his time in school following his stay in prison, Shin was made to feel guilty—although this was a very different form of the guilt than the self-loathing he’d later feel for betraying his mother and brother. Instead, Shin was told again and again that he had to atone for his family’s sins. Shin even came to accept this idea of his own guilt after having it drummed into his head year after year.
Shin begins to hate his parents for giving birth to him within Camp 14. He hates his mother for plotting to escape, and when his father visits him, Shin refuses to speak. Yet Shin never considers suicide during this stretch of his life. Many of Shin’s peers commit suicide—death often seems a better alternative than living in constant hunger and fear. But Shin has spent his entire life in the camp, meaning that he has no understanding of what a normal, happy life could be—he has “no hope to lose, no past to mourn.”
At this point in his life, Shin still hated his mother and blamed her for trying to escape rather than feeling shame for betraying her. According to the book, his only standard for what life could be like was the camp itself—therefore, he couldn’t understand his mother’s desire to return to the outside world. However, since 2015, Shin has stated that he did have some knowledge of the outside world—he was taught about surrounding North Korea and the Kims, and therefore wasn’t as naïve as he’d claimed. Perhaps Shin exaggerated the isolation of his camp because he wanted to strengthen the point that he had no sense of normal human society, and therefore, no sense of right and wrong.
Shin catches a lucky break when his cruel teacher is replaced with another man. The new teacher goes out of his way to feed Shin, taking him to the cafeteria after meals and sometimes sneaking food to him. He also gives Shin less work than normal, and stops his classmates from teasing him. Hong Joo Hyun becomes Shin’s friend again. Shin begins to gain weight, and his burns heal. It’s unclear why the new teacher is kinder to Shin—perhaps he’s just kind. It’s also possible that the guards realized that they had an incentive to keep Shin, a reliable snitch, alive.
While it’s tempting to think that Shin’s new teacher was simply a kinder man than his predecessor, it’s also possible that Shin was just being rewarded for snitching on his mother—meaning that, in a way, Shin only survived for the rest of his time in the camp because he betrayed his family to their deaths. However, it’s also important to remember Shin’s later admission that he exaggerated the severity of his working conditions somewhat.