Following his release from North Korea, where he was imprisoned for seven months, Aijalon Mahli Gomes will likely face a long road to recovery.
Gomes, 31, returned to the United States on Friday with former President Jimmy Carter, who traveled to North Korea on Tuesday on a humanitarian visit to negotiate the Boston man's release. North Korean officials agreed to release Gomes to Carter, 85.
Gomes, an English teacher turned Christian activist, crossed into North Korea on January 25. In April, the North Korean government sentenced the Boston native to eight years in a hard-labor camp and fined him $700,000. It's uncertain why Gomes crossed into North Korea, but most observers speculate he did so in response to the actions of his friend, Robert Park.
On Christmas Eve 2009, Park, 29, crossed into North Korea in hopes of drawing attention to the Communist nation's human rights violations and persecution of Christians. Park was arrested and imprisoned in North Korea and released after six weeks. Gomes and Park both attended Every Nation Church of Korea in Seoul. Simon Suh, the church's pastor, told NPR that the two may have been drawn to North Korea because of "passionate prayers by defectors now living in the South," many of whom attend their church.
Since his release, Park has not spoken about his imprisonment—due in part, he said, to fears for Gomes's safety—and he declined to say anything publicly about North Korea until Gomes was safe.
It has not been an easy transition for Park, who said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and that he fell apart as a person and felt tormented.
"After leaving North Korea, I went through a lot of things—I have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals and it's ...1