“This is not a prison, the real prison is where we return to.”

A mock prison called “Prison Inside Me” has become a retreat for harried South Koreans looking for a clean break from the daily demands of their careers. Located in the Hongcheon county, in Gangwon province east of Seoul. Prison rules are strict. No talking with other inmates. No mobile phones or clocks. Clients get a blue prison uniform, a yoga mat, tea set, a pen and notebook. They sleep on the floor. There is a small toilet inside the room, but no mirror. The menu includes steamed sweet potato and a banana shake for dinner, and rice porridge for breakfast. Co-founder Noh Ji-Hyang said the mock prison was inspired by her husband, a prosecutor who often put in 100-hour work weeks. “He said he would rather go into solitary confinement for a week to take a rest and feel better,” she said. “That was the beginning.” A downturn in South Korea’s high-tech, export-driven economy has intensified a hyper-competitive school and work environment that experts say adds to a high incidence of stress and suicide. South Koreans worked 2,024 hours on average in 2017, the third longest after Mexico and Costa Rica, in a survey of 36 member countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). To help people work less and earn more, the government has raised the minimum wage and cut the legal cap on working hours to 52 per week from 68. But the policies could backfire and put at risk more jobs than they create, economists say. Noh said some customers are wary of spending 24 or 48 hours in a prison cell, until they try it. “After a stay in the prison, people say, ‘This is not a prison, the real prison is where we return to,’” she said. Prison Inside Me has hosted a few thousand visitors in the past few years, Reuters reports. Many of them are seeking temporary solace from the stresses of South Korea’s competitive schooling and job market. These stresses have been amplified due to an economic downturn in the country.