Despite grueling labor and verbal torment, Kenneth Bae always hoped he’d be able to come home.
In his first live interview since his release in late 2014, Bae spoke out about what he went through on CNN’s “New Day” Monday.
Bae was the longest-held U.S. citizen detained in North Korea since the Korean War. In 2013, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for committing “hostile acts” in the country.
“I worked from 8 a.m. to 6 pm. at night, working on the field, carrying rock, shoveling coal,” Bae told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Monday.
Adding to the physical pain was the verbal torment he received from North Korean officials, Bae said.
One prosecutor repeatedly told him, ” ‘No one remembers you. You have been forgotten by people, your government. You’re not going home anytime soon. You’ll be 60 before you go home,’ ” Bae said.
Bae, a South Korean-born U.S. citizen, moved to China in 2005 and established a tour company that specialized in tours of North Korea, according to family and friends.
He was leading a tour when he was arrested in November 2012, then sentenced in April 2013.
It’s not clear what the alleged “hostile acts” were, but in a pre-taped statement released in March, Bae said he “made a terrible mistake by carrying a portable hard drive containing hostile, anti-North Korean material by accident.”
He is a devout Christian, which led some to speculate that he was carrying religious items. North Korea is officially an atheist state.
Bae’s health deteriorated during his captivity — he lost about 60 pounds and at one point was placed in a North Korean hospital in order to recuperate.
Bae thanked former basketball star Dennis Rodman for his 2014 outburst about Bae on “New Day,” saying Rodman’s highly publicized rant drew attention to his plight. “I thank Dennis Rodman for being a catalyst for my release,” Bae said Monday.
In November 2014, the State Department announced it had secured the release of Bae and another American held by North Korea, Matthew Todd Miller.
Bae then thanked the U.S. and North Korean governments and did not speak publicly until his March statement that promoted his book, which will be released on Tuesday.
The memoir, which will be published HarperCollins’ Christian-themed division, will likely have strong religious undertones.
“One thing I want people to take away from reading the book is God’s faithfulness,” Bae said. “After I was released, I was reminded that God has not forgotten the people of North Korea.”
By Holly Yan
CNN’s Madison Park contributed to this report.