By Kim Rahn
At a police station in the southern city of Jeonju on Jan. 24, a college student was shedding tears, his mother was weeping standing beside him, and police officers’ eyes were also welling up.
The 19-year-old student Lee’s mother, who looked haggard due to illness, was saying amid tears, “Why did you do such things? I told you that we should live honestly.”
And his elder brother was on his knees, begging officers: “Please make sure that my brother will not have a criminal record. I will be punished instead.”
This is the scene described by police officers at the Deokjin Police Station in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, after the student was apprehended for stealing English grammar and vocabulary books worth 30,000 won ($27) at a bookstore in the city last August.
He also allegedly stole several items worth 780,000 won, including a jumper, until he was caught recently.
After investigating, police found out that Lee worked at a factory by night to earn money to pay tuition fees. He did everything he could to make money, but managed to earn enough only for living expenses, far short of paying his tuition fees.
As his mother, who divorced his father and is a diabetic, recently developed depression, Lee turned to theft to pay her medical fees and his tuition, with the deadline for tuition payment approaching.
Lee was quoted as saying that he stole the books to study English and the jumper, to fight the bitter cold.
“Lee told us that he stole to pay his tuition because he really wanted to study. He kept crying during the investigation, saying he doesn’t know how to apologize to the people he hurt with his unforgivable crimes,” a police officer said.
The officer said policemen there were moved to tears while listening to his story. “We booked Lee without physical detention, because he was a first offender and regretted his wrongdoing from the bottom of his heart,” he said.