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Corona in prison: The toughest lockdown


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When Timo Bogner bent over several sheets of paper with a ballpoint pen at the end of April, he had been in solitary confinement for 20 days. He was only allowed to go out with other prisoners for an hour a few times, in the courtyard of the Straubing correctional facility in East Bavaria, during this time he could shower every two to three days, with a little luck at least. Bogner is neither a particularly dangerous prisoner nor is solitary confinement an additional punishment. It serves Bogner's own protection: Corona broke out in prison in the middle of the month and there were dozens of infections. Since then there has been a strict lockdown.

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Because the Bavarian Ministry of Justice does not allow prisoners to make phone calls to the press, Bogner, 42, describes his experiences in a letter to ZEIT ONLINE. Handwritten, 15 pages long. Bogner is actually called differently, like all prisoners who appear in this text. At first he was afraid, writes Bogner. It is a "crisis situation" and the restrictions are sometimes massive. "I have disciplined myself again and again and wrested patience and understanding for the measures."

Prisons are particularly at risk in the pandemic: In prisons, many people live together in a small space, many of them belong to risk groups. That is why the penal institutions try to minimize external contacts. That apparently worked: If you add up the information from the responsible judicial press offices, around 1,100 prisoners contracted the corona virus last year. This means that the infection rate in prisons is below that of the general population. According to the ministries, many infections did not take place in prison, but were noticed when prisoners were tested when they were admitted.

Rebekah Meadow

studied public history in Berlin. She prefers to write about gender equality issues, the culture of remembrance and other topics that take place between politics and society. In training at the German School of Journalism in Munich.

But sealing off the prison inmates in this way has a price. For Manuel Matzke, spokesman for the prisoners' union GG / BO, it is clear: "The system fails to do its job." The real goal of a prison sentence is often overlooked: it is only marginally about retaliation for a crime. Imprisonment is supposed to reintegrate a person into society who has violated the rules of living together. Rehabilitation, that is the mission of the prisons. "This is difficult to do under pandemic conditions."

"Hello," calls out Hans Gerber as he holds the telephone receiver in his hand. Gerber, 60, is a prisoner in the Tegel correctional facility in Berlin. Visits by journalists are currently difficult, as in every German prison, strict hygiene rules have been in place in Tegel for a year. That's why he tells on the phone how he experiences everyday prison life under Corona conditions. Gerber talks and laughs a lot. Although he has been in a Berlin prison for almost eleven years, you can immediately hear this singsong in his voice, Gerber is from Switzerland. When he talks about his girlfriend, he says "my sweetheart". He and his girlfriend have only seen each other with a mask, Plexiglas pane and distance since March 2020, the last hug was more than a year ago. Sometimes they take off their masks briefly in the visiting room, says Gerber, only for a few seconds: "You want to know whether the person opposite is really the same."

Christian people

studied political science and journalism in Mainz, Memphis and Munich. Mainly deals with political and social issues - including for the mirror and Deutschlandfunk. Trained at the German School of Journalism in Munich.

Not all relationships can survive these circumstances. In any case, it is difficult for prisoners to maintain contact with the outside world - especially if, like tanners, they are serving life sentences. Manuel Matzke from the prisoners' union knows many such stories: "We see that relationships are breaking down," says Matzke. He kept getting calls from prisoners or relatives who turned to the union because they couldn't stand the situation.