The villagers called it a pig sty, a cage, a prison. To be exact, it turned out to be a piece of hell on earth — when the TV program Rescue Signal arrived at the house in the countryside, Korea after receiving a tip about “a man being held captive in a cell like a beast”.
And the first encounter with this “man in captivity” was nothing short of disturbingly shocking. The man, completely naked and making incomprehensible sounds, was spotted behind barred windows. Instead of responding to the strangers outside, he kept circling the room and groaning.
When Rescue Signal returned to the house next morning, they got a closer look at the man’s “enclosure” and fell speechless.
The 33-year-old man, by the name of Lim Moon Hong, spent every minute of every day of his life for the past 20 years in this room…
… that is, undeniably, a cage. Not only did Lim eat and sleep here…
… but he also urinated and defecated, anywhere inside the room. Thus, he was often covered in his own defecation too. Though it did not seem to bother him, it seemed to be largely unhygienic…
… especially because he proceeded to eat with the very hands he used to cover himself in the fecal matter.
The room smelled strongly, especially with the summer heat. The room lacked proper ventilation, obviously. And the fan, set up outside the window to blow breezes inside the room, barely made an impact in the room temperature.
His only source of “entertainment” to keep himself busy came from the pages of newspaper on the floor — which he only knew how to rip up to pieces.
When Rescue Signal tried to communicate with Lim, he did not seem to understand the situation. Though he smiled at the camera, he was unable to form any words.
Why? Why was this happening to Lim?
It had to do with the hopelessness of his immediate family. Lim lives with his 91-year-old grandmother, his deaf-and-mute father, and his mother with cancer and a developmental disability herself. He has an older sister, but she is battling colorectal cancer and cannot attend to take care of Lim. The grandmother explained that, with everyone in the family growing old and feeble, Lim had to be kept behind locked doors — because no one could control him anymore, especially when he “acts out”.
He breaks everything. It’s uncontrollable. When he starts acting out, I can’t control him because I’m too old. His father can’t hear anything and can’t say anything, so he is no help. His mother is mentally unstable too. There is no other way to keep my grandson safe without having him locked up like that. It is for his own safety.
— Lim’s Grandmother
According to Lim’s sister, while Lim was born with a mental disability, he wasn’t always confined to his cage of a room.
We don’t have him in there because we want to. None of us know how to deal with him though…
— Lim’s Sister
When he turned 13 years old, the family tried sending him to a special education school. Lim was admitted to a dorm and expected to learn skills that would help him support himself. A few months in, however, Lim was withdrawn from the program for being disruptive.
I remember Moon Hong! He always had this big smile on his face… But I don’t think he stayed at the school too long. Right?
— Lim’s Former Teacher
By 16 years old, Lim was admitted to a mental institution. The family had hoped that the medical attention would help him become stable. Unfortunately, the treatment had been less than successful. Lim’s family, especially his father, removed Lim from the institution. He believed that the hospitalization experience only worsened his condition and “broke him further”. With all hope lost and no choice left, Lim’s family opted to keeping Lim close.
The decision had its consequences. Taking care of a grown man took its toll on the parents. Not only did it grow physically exhausting, it also became mentally draining. It was hell for Lim — but it was equally as devastating for his parents, who couldn’t do anything better about the situation.
To help, Rescue Signal first brought in experts to make sure Lim’s health isn’t on the line. A psychiatrist also looked at Lim and quickly diagnosed him to show severe signs of autism.
Fortunately, while the lack of outside stimulation had degenerated a lot of his senses, Lim showed potential to improve with proper care and treatment. Rescue Signal finally convinced Lim’s family to let him be taken to a specialized hospital.
Here, Lim will stay and focus on building basic survival skills of which he had been deprived living in confinement. Though it broke the family’s heart to leave Lim on his own, they knew it is only for the best.
He needs time. He needs to learn even the most basic things like using the bathroom. But he will learn. He will be able to live on his own, with the right medical and behavioral treatment.
— Lim’s Doctor
After the episode aired, Koreans felt extremely conflicted. Mostly, they voiced their concerns for these rural parts of the country, where welfare isn’t reaching those who need it the most. And of course, they wished the best for Lim — going on his long journey to recover from the decades of losing himself in that room.
- “This is horrendous. I first thought it’s some sort of domestic abuse… but I see how for Lim’s parents, that was the only choice. It must have broken their hearts to pieces and pieces again. I am speechless.”
- “You can only imagine what mental institutions in Korea 1998 would have been like. I bet Lim was more abused at that hospital than in the cage. Lim’s story has shattered my heart.”
- “I don’t doubt for a second that Lim’s family meant to hurt Lim. They really tried everything they could.”
- “You can tell Lim didn’t really feel abused because look at the way he holds on to his father’s arm. He’s also depending on his family too. This is really sad.”
- “Why is the government not spending money on people like this? If not on families like Lim’s, then on whom are they spending all that budget? It baffles me.”
- “Korea needs to do a better job at taking care of its citizens with disabilities. Like seriously… This could have been prevented with the right, helpful intervention.”