Why do prisoners hate cop killers

Assault and violence are part of everyday life in prisons. The right of the strongest applies - and some are right at the bottom of the hierarchy from the start.

By Alexander Krützfeldt

Julian likes to take a long shower. In the communal shower. He then stands there, motionless and lets the warm water patter down on him. He calls it: "Wellness". A Russian man storms in. He hits him. Julian falls on the wet floor.

Julian killed an elderly woman in a house by the forest. To this day he is silent about the reasons. The fact that he does not want to talk about the crime is self-protection. During the trial, his lawyers had advised him to keep quiet so as not to incriminate himself. He has lost the authority to interpret his life.

The other inmates find that his victim was defenseless. You don't kill children and the elderly. Equals: That's okay. Shoot the man who molested your wife? Completely legitimate. Julian is considered "dishonorable" because his victim was not at eye level. As if that played a role in murder.

As soon as he arrives in prison, Julian is almost at the bottom of the prison hierarchy. The fact that he, the murderer, is himself a victim in prison is quite fair here.

Julian is sitting in the visiting room. The long hair as accurate as his polo shirt. "It's hard to find a good hairdresser in prison," says Julian. He sits for five years. There will be at least ten more.

Because murder in Germany always means lifelong. In reality this means: A prisoner must serve at least 15 years before it can be checked whether he can be released early - if the prognoses are correct.

Average life sentences are around 19 years in Lower Saxony and around 21 years in Bavaria. According to current surveys, around 2,400 prisoners across Germany were serving life sentences.

Assaults like Julian's are the order of the day in prisons - and not the exception they should be. The inmates are often used to violence and have been shaped accordingly by their life outside. One speaks of the so-called "imported violence". The rule is: the right of the strongest. Prison is always the schoolyard. It hits the smart nerd with glasses first.

Julian wears glasses.

It's up to the people here, says Julian: "They're jealous." He puts his palms on the table. There is something dissecting about his eyes, the look of an X-ray machine on an otherwise friendly-looking face.

“You are jealous of success. They are jealous of motivation. As an intelligent person, you are exotic here. Many prefer to take their drugs and have fun. Most of them end up here again anyway, ”says Julian.

The inmates think that Julian is a "snob", a "nerd" and arrogant.

“I only have four or five people here to talk to,” says Julian. “I'm on the same wavelength with them.” As a precaution, he stays away from the rest. And that is where the problems began. At some point the school playground always comes to you.

Julian was always the favorite. Of his parents. In the village where he grew up, which was nice on the one hand, but it also brought pressure on the other. Expectations weigh on you.

He dropped out of school. Not in the mood. His father didn't care about higher education anyway, says Julian. The parents had simple jobs. Julian always wanted something better. Even without a school.

His therapist doesn't think it's so good that he stays away, that he insists on being different. He should rather integrate.

"She says I would talk and act like a 50-year-old," says Julian, who is only in his late 20s. “She wants me to act like a child. Tri-tra-tralla. I'm not like that."

The therapists didn't recommend this to Julian for fun: they want to protect him. Because the other prisoners think that if Julian separates himself, he probably thinks he is better.

“They can't handle you at all,” says Julian. “Not the staff, and neither are the other prisoners. Oh, he can express himself! As a clever person you are outnumbered here. "

Julian doesn't want to have to be childish; he does not want to lower himself to the level of the others, he says. He just has his direction - and that means: imitate Abitur.

“Maybe the therapists just feel more needed,” says Julian, “when they can help someone here on the right track. With me you don't have to. I already know what I'm doing. "

Therapists say: Some perpetrators are narcissistic and only circled around themselves. Often they cannot assess the consequences and cannot look very far into the future.

With Julian, the therapists were a little too quick to swivel in “his direction”: It's nice when someone has a goal, they say. But first you have to work on the past, only then can you look into the future.

At first Julian doesn't find his way around at all. The prison is a world like the schoolyard back then. The younger ones are pushed, the older ones fetch cans of beer with the tuned junk truck; they talk about sex and penises - and whoever does not talk about sex and penises is gay or otherwise a "Mongo" who can be bullied.

You grow out of this world. Usually. You go to university or abroad or find a job and buy a five-door. And when you return to visit your parents, for example, you realize that the heroes of yore and this world are still there: at the train station, with cans of beer. Same old losers. This is the kind of world it is here.

Julian is the center of the world, his world. The rest are extras who are incapable of ever playing a leading role in life. He doesn't say that, but sometimes he talks about the others so coldly that one gets the impression that there is a second Julian sitting next to Julian. A cool being, full of distance to himself and the world.

At first they just called him "Schnösel" here. They teased him, he wore nice clothes and groomed himself; there was his appearance and the deliberate way of speaking. "Pretty boy," they called him.

That was all "fun", of course, as it is fun when someone tips a can of beer on your neck.

But then Julian made a mistake with grave consequences, a mistake in their eyes decisive, and violated a golden rule of prison, and since there are not many, the few are immensely more important. This is actually the most important of all: you. Should. Not. To sing.

Of course, Julian didn't give a shit again.

“I already knew it was a risk,” he says. “But at a certain point I thought: You won't let yourself be pushed around here anymore.” Schoolyard rule number one: once a victim, always a victim. If you let something happen, it happens again and again.

Because he is serving a long prison sentence, Julian has accumulated many things over time and stowed them in his cell that are valuable here: CDs, CD players, razors, the good clothes. “One of the Arabs saw that,” says Julian. "And because I'm more of the loner type, he took advantage of that."

The Arab went to his "boss" and told them about a fabulous treasure trove that he had seen with his own eyes. Both worked with Julian in a prison company, and then one morning the Arab came and asked: "Can you maybe lend me your CD player?"

"No," said Julian, who suspected that he would be asked again and again and where it would all end.

A few days later the Arab asked again: “My boss has a visitor and doesn't have long trousers. Can you lend him one? "

"No," says Julian, who knew that otherwise he would never see her again.

The third time the Arab stopped coming. Then his boss came along. His authority was scratched, he angry and so he stood in Julian’s way with a piercing look. "Watch out," said the boss. "Either you hand the things out immediately, or I'll cut your head off!"

Julian did not take the threat from him. But he didn't want to risk being hit. "There would have been three or four people there," says Julian. “That's how it works here. And you are alone - and nobody helps you. The officials don't care. They just open and close the doors. "

Abuse - up to and including killing - occurs again and again in German prisons.

Social science surveys by the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony and the Criminological Institute of the University of Cologne come to the unanimous conclusion that prisoners experience violence as part of everyday life. At least one in four prisoners has already been a perpetrator or victim.

The most common attacks are psychological: threatening, spreading lies, intimidating. Almost every second person is therefore affected. However, the authors of the study, in which numerous prisoners were interviewed, point out that out of shame and fear of revenge, the dark field is probably large.

After the psychological attacks, the physical ones follow. According to the surveys, however, sexual violence only plays a role in the low, single-digit percentage range, at least officially. Here, too, shame and stigma are at work.

However, detainees report that rape and “shower scenes” are relics from the past and, unlike ten years ago, no longer play a role today. “Things like building buses, that is, hanging off the double bed, as a privacy screen, and then up your butt,” says an older inmate, “that was there before, yes. Today you practically don't experience that anymore. ”Many prisoners who would become perpetrators were disgusted with this idea. In addition, sex among prisoners is quickly seen as "unmanly" and "gay".

To avoid the Arabs ambushing him in the showers, Julian goes to an officer who is looking after his cane and reports the incident.

In addition to the stairwell and the courtyard, the shower rooms are particularly risky. They are not fully monitored in order to protect the privacy of prisoners. The cells are also repeatedly the scene of attacks.

The JVA Wolfenbüttel has therefore integrated its own shower rooms into the individual cells. A prisoner, a private shower. What sounds like luxury is thought pragmatically: the prisoners are also allowed to lock their cells themselves to find peace, but of course there is still a master key. Since then, says the prison administration, there have been hardly any reports of attacks.

Two things happen: The Arab is punished and a complaint is made for predatory extortion, and Julian is given the title: "31er rat". The "31" is based on Paragraph 31 of the Narcotics Act, according to which someone who reveals his knowledge and thus contributes to the investigation of a criminal offense can expect punishment to be mitigated. In prison the text is shorter: Treason.

A triumph for Julian, a short one.

Because he realizes that he has everyone against him now. Even the Russians are now his enemies. They do not tolerate a traitor on their way. Traitors - alongside pedophiles and sex offenders - are at the bottom of the prison hierarchy. They wipe the floor.

The jail is: a closed world, a barred silent monastery. According to the study by the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony, only about eight percent of men feel protected by the institution. The majority find protection with fellow prisoners - and nobody wants to risk this protection. That is why, in case of doubt, it is covered and tolerated, but never teased.

Julian no longer dares to go into the courtyard or the communal shower. "I also stopped going to work because when moving away - when coming in and out - there is a bang in the stairwell," he says.

He recently witnessed a fight: one of them had put a can of tuna in his sock and then swung it and hit the other on the head. Blood seeped down the stairs to the floor below.

"It's not like in the movie, where you get up after a blow like that," says Julian. “Something's about to happen to you. Teeth or bones in the face usually split immediately. You're scared. ”Julian voluntarily allows himself to be completely locked up.

For aggressors there are specially secured cells where the inventory cannot be destroyed - what inmates call them: “the bunker”.

And there are some that are empty and the walls are soft and you are tied to the floor with belts when nothing works and you attack the staff. There is temporary solitary confinement, for around 21 days. In addition, most institutions have a screening or protection station in case someone has to fear for his life due to drug debts or the like.

"Bunkers" and "padded cells" should be used sparingly, says an institution director. As a rule, they would only exacerbate the problem of violence.

The conflict smoldered for three to four months, and because the other wings were full, Julian was finally offered the protection department. He refuses: He doesn't want a double room, but his own cell.

The problem: The Russian boss lies one cell further and he hates sleeping wall to wall with a traitor. Second problem: Julian also has to shower.

When he went there again one day - it was quiet, water was splashing - and had a long shower, as he likes to do, the Russian boss suddenly came rushing in.

He punched him on the rib with full force. A catch with training. An officer hears it in the hallway, rushes in and separates the two.

After that, Julian is transferred to another institution.

The Russian boss is charged with assault.

The longer the sentences, the quieter the prison. The rule is pretty simple.

The unrest and the potential for conflict are highest in pre-trial detention and short sentences; this is where there is the most arguments because new people keep coming and the power structure is disrupted. Offenders with long sentences are much calmer when they are among themselves. You know each other, you set yourself up. Or goes out of the way.

Julian has now landed on the therapy ward; he should have started therapy anyway because of his crime. In the new institution it begins immediately.

Many prisoners are jealous because the prisoners are given more freedom in the therapy ward: extra visiting rooms, more sport, more free time. Besides Julian, there are mostly sex offenders and pedophiles here.

He doesn't want to talk about what he did.

Once a week, for one hour at a time, Julian meets his therapist here. “Small talk,” he thinks. Most of the time she is sick.

“I don't get along with her very well,” says Julian. “But if I wanted to change them, I would have to leave my living group. And I feel very comfortable there. "

From a therapeutic point of view, inmates like Julian should stop looking for explanations or excuses for all their mistakes and offenses - looking for circumstances or culprits that are not themselves. This is called externalizing.

Julian thinks: The therapist shouldn't treat him like a child.

Julian's supervisor thinks he has to face things. He would run away. Because even a demonstratively expressed path into one's own future can be an escape.

Prisons do not just protect a society from the perpetrator. They also protect the perpetrator from society and from fellow prisoners if need be.

But how do you learn a way without violence when violence, threat and danger are the order of the day?

In the end, Julian gets up. A kind person; polite and eloquent and smart and well dressed. He wouldn't stand out on the high school photo. People would say: nice guy. More is not known about him.

And when he stands there, the being looks at him from the side. It had sat down next to him when he spoke so coldly and distantly from the others, from envy and their stupidity. It sat in silence and dreamed, all the time in the visitor's chair.

It's the part of Julian that he doesn't talk about - or just pretend it was about a distant acquaintance. They have known each other for a long time.

It is the being that the therapist means.

The creature from that night in the house by the forest.

An officer takes Julian out. The being follows him.

It looks shadowy and disturbing.

* Name changed by the editor

The research on the project "Eight Prisoners" is a cooperation of Süddeutscher Zeitung, Bavarian radio and Corrective.

Alexander Krützfeldt

is a freelance journalist and book author and lives in Leipzig. Can't fully assess Julian to this day. When he came in, the officer said: “If something is wrong, just press the red button.” - “What should be?” - “I have no idea.Hostage taking or something. ”During the conversation, Julian sat in front of the red button.

textAlexander Krützfeldt
ResearchEva Achinger, Alexander Krützfeldt
editorial staffSabrina Ebitsch
Photo / illustration Jessy Asmus
Data / graphicsKatharina Brunner, Pia Dangelmayer, Dalila Keller, Benedict Witzenberger
Design / videoManuel Kostrzynski, Livio Stöckli
photosJörg Singer, AP, dpa, AFP