Labor mediators in prison: how Topfstedt brings serious criminals to work 2

Labor mediators in prison: how Topfstedt brings serious criminals to work

At 7 am, Mr. Topfstedt enters Germany's largest prison through the historic main entrance, door 1. He does not have to undergo compulsory research. The judiciary knows the man who enters and leaves three times a week. The heavy keys on the metal belt, which the guardians give him, look like props of a historical film.

An employment agency in nature may not necessarily be a place of pure joy. But Michael Topfstedt's workplace is another very different number. His office is a Spartan cell in Tegel prison in Berlin. His clientele: murderers, murderers, rapists. Its mission: to help these people return to the labor market. No work for the faint of heart.

"Some people cannot bear it psychologically"

The Tegel prison is an old prison, since 1898 here male criminals commit their prison sentences in a closed execution. Much of the brick building, a heritage of humanity, on the 130,000 square foot prison grounds, dates from that time. Anyone sitting here has not turned black only once too often. After Tegel arrives only in the most difficult cases, most of the prisoners are in prison for several years.

The old desolate walls, the human abysses, the continuous rattle of the prison key: "Some people cannot bear it psychologically", says Topfstedt employment agency. A colleague, who was supposed to learn some time ago, threw back in the trial period.

JVA Tegel

Behind the prison walls, Tegel sits at about 800 prisoners from their prison sentences

The 39-year-old Topfstedt himself, married, father of two young daughters, does not seem to have much sense for the oppressive atmosphere. Since 2012 he has been working as a resocialisation consultant for the employment agency exclusively with prisoners. It is one of the four full-time resolution consultants that the state of Berlin uses in its prisons – a unique national model that has been practiced since the 70s. All members of the special employment agency team are responsible for one or two detention centers. Topfstedt arrives in Tegel on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, Wednesday and Friday, driving to Jüppel Düppel, an open execution institution.

An office, as naked as a cell

In Tegel, Topfsted's office is located in an old cell block that resembles the prisons you know from US movies. On both sides of the room, cell by cell, the open plan corridor floors are connected by metal trellis stairs. The building in need of modernization is currently empty, only a room of the size of a double cell is occupied: at the door hangs a DIN A4 note, in which is the word "employment office". The Topfsted office consists of a desk with computer, printer and telephone, three chairs and a potted plant on a sideboard. Add to those white walls, neon lights on the ceiling, no family photos or other personal effects.

JVA Tegel

The "employment office" of the prison: Michael Topfstedt's office contains no personal effects

Here, Topfstedt receives offenders for a morning consultation. An officer in the forces of order brings the inmates one at a time and delivers them to the door. So the employment agency and the inmate sit face to face. The first candidate is a talkative bearer bearer about 50 in blue. It will be released in the spring and wants to use Topfstedt to look for jobs as a shoemaker. The man is motivated and competent. The only problem: he could not yet hold a job interview because he would have to leave prison for that. Topfstedt is in agreement with him to postpone the specific job search for a few more months.

The next prisoner is a gray-tailed artist who landed in Tegel due to repeated assaults. He describes his career as a set designer and costume designer in detail, he also worked as a book binder. It is not a simple case, but a look at the computer reveals to Topfstedt that at least ten places for bookbinders must be occupied in Berlin. "It's more than expected," exclaims Topfstedt. So it's time for a cigarette break. In the prison yard, talk to a social worker about one of his charges, which he should communicate.

Pleasant that in the center of work out

Michael Topfstedt worked as a case manager in a normal work center. Human interaction was much worse there, he says. "The clientele and the environment are more difficult in prison, but the work is more pleasant than outside." He must not control sanctions and cut unemployment benefits II for anyone. The prisoners come to him voluntarily, not because they have to, and they are grateful for the help they can give them. Because a professional perspective increases their chances of being transferred to an open prison or being fired prematurely. "That someone threatens it, rarely happens," says Topfstedt. He was never physically attacked.

JVA Tegel

Parking for visitors in front of the Tegel prison walls

Topfstedt conducts 30 to 40 counseling sessions with prisoners a week. It focuses on two strategies: "humor or hard edge". With his relaxed yet gentle nature, he usually manages to create a relaxed and constructive conversation atmosphere. If someone verbally attacks, threatens or tries to use it for smuggling services, the conversation ends immediately.

In the beginning, Topfstedt does not know what is in the register, when the prisoner enters from his door. And he usually doesn't want to know him too well. "When someone starts telling me the details of his act, I say enough." He can do without some images in his head. In the end, the crime can also be relevant for the purpose of professional reintegration, as some crimes are excluded for certain professions. For example, you do not send a sex offender to the day care center or a cheater to the bank. But to prove that it is the responsibility of the prison administration. "I treat everyone here at the table the same way," says Topfstedt.

Smalltalk with triple killer

Of course, he knows in prisoners, with whom he has dealt more often, but at some point. After all, he has known some for years. As for the prisoner, who is standing with him shortly after stopping the cigarette and talks conversational about the outcome of his recent psychological report. Topfstedt listens and says goodbye to the woman again. Quite normal talk, you might think. That Topfstedt knows that the man killed his parents and his sister does not show it.

In general, Topfstedt does not take the work home so as not to have similar stories in mind all the time. There is no mention of the prison at the Topfstedts dining table. The daughters only know of Dad's work that helps men who have done something bad to fix it. His wife doesn't want to know more. So far he has refused any invitation to see the JVA at least once from within.

JVA Tegel

For the reasons (here the view from the outside) are not only cells and administrative buildings, but also numerous craft activities

About 800 offenders are in Tegel and the labor issue is not just a matter of those who will soon be transferred to an open prison or fired altogether. Even everyday life in prison is determined by work, after all, it's a duty to work in Berlin institutions. There are more than a dozen craft shops in Tegel Prison where prisoners can earn money and acquire professional qualifications. For example, there is a carpentry, a bakery, a nursery, a painting and even a car repair shop. The working day for inmates starts at 6:45 am and ends at 3:00 pm.

Qualification for the normal labor market

With the voucher for education Topfstedt can financially support education and training so that prisoners can use several years in prison to qualify for the normal labor market. Many even complete an adequate education here for the first time in their lives. And then they have good chances in the labor market, because artisans, cleaning or kitchen workers are currently in a desperate search. Meanwhile, some temporary employment agencies and craft businesses are even appearing directly in prison to recruit electricians or automotive mechatronics specialists during a meeting.

For prisoners the return to normal working life usually leads to open execution. Anyone looking for a regular job has a good chance of being transferred from Tegel to another facility, which he can then leave during the day to do his job. Of course, some employers have reservations about detainees, says Topfstedt. Others believe that prisoners are exceptionally exemplary employees. Punctual, disciplined and rarely sick – after all, the alternative to work is not a day with Netflix on the couch, but in the prison cell.

The positive feedback from companies that employ ex-convicts is particularly interesting for Topfstedt. After all, permanent work is the best protection against repetition. "My job is to protect the company," says Topfstedt. "When I reduce the recurrence rate through my work, I see my work as realized."

There are no official statistics on the success of the Berlin Reso consultants. But from time to time Topfstedt meets a former prisoner on the road to work in the S-Bahn. Then he greets her and hopes he will never meet in his office again.