Why Is This German Career Criminal So Angry He's Being Freed?

After decades behind bars, a court suddenly orders the release of a lifelong criminal in Bavaria who says he's unprepared to be "out there in the world."

Not such a pleasant sight for Martin Brommer...
Not such a pleasant sight for Martin Brommer...
Lukas Meyer-Blankenburg and Dietrich Mittler

STRAUBING - In a few hours, Martin Brommer will be a free man. What he has accumulated by way of possessions during his imprisonment, then preventive detention, is packed into two cardboard boxes: two pairs of jeans, a leather jacket, underwear, a couple of changes of socks. He also has a music player for his Dire Straits, Pink Floyd and Nazareth CDs and — his most valuable item — a flat-screen TV.

His court-ordered imminent release fills Brommer (whose name has been changed for this story) with conflicting emotions: happiness to get his freedom back, and unconcealed anger. “I’m being let out totally unprepared for life on the outside — that’s criminal,” he says.

Brommer is one of nine men detained in Bavaria at the Straubing and Erlangen District Hospitals under the Act on the Therapeutic Treatment and Placement of Violent Offenders Suffering from Mental Disorders (ThUG). The law came into effect in early 2011 and applies to convicted criminals who, according to a European Court of Human Rights, may not be kept in preventive detention until after serving their sentence. Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court thus passed ThUG, which decrees that criminals deemed too dangerous to go back into society after serving their sentence be placed in therapeutic facilities.

Brommer, 50, has been in the district hospital since mid-December 2011.

A life behind bars

With short interruptions, he has been locked up one way or another since he was 14. The list of his crimes is as long as it is scary: rape, grievous bodily harm, robbery, breaking and entering.

Brommer says he and three other ThUG detainees who’ve already been released were not given the opportunity to meet with various social workers, parole officers or job counselors before they left the facility. He says he mentioned that to the judge. Hospital management said, though, that while ThUG “clients” were normally placed in transition facilities near their homes before release, by law court-ordered releases had to take place immediately.

Brommer says there would have been enough time to prepare him for life in “the world out there.”

"The going-on two years I spent here were worse than in any prison," Brommer says. He wrote many letters of complaint, claiming, among other things, that he was never given a therapy plan, even though the court had ordered he be given one.

“Every ThUG client gets a therapy plan,” the hospital spokesperson says. But in this instance, the core of such a plan, which is to say input by the client “about his personal goals,” was missing. In other words, the spokesperson says, he had refused to provide them. Brommer’s lawyer Adam Ahmed claims, however, that a plan should have been ready and available for discussion from the day his client entered the facility.

Worst of all, Brommer says, was not being able to interact with other inmates, although again the hospital explains that it is just following the rules by separating certain categories of detainees. Relative isolation often leads to conflicts with therapists, one of whom complained of “verbal abuse, insults and vilification.” Relations are often tense among detainees themselves, too, who out of frustration sometimes react disproportionately or with physical violence to small annoyances.

Brommer is happy to be leaving all that. He looks down at his tattooed arms, at the gold ring on his finger. “I’ve been incredibly lucky,” he says. “My life partner is out there waiting for me, and that’s where I’m going to be heading.” An ergotherapist, Brommer’s partner worked for the hospital for 20 years. He met her when he was undergoing occupational therapy, shortly before she retired. Since then she has visited him twice weekly, and they speak on the phone every day.

“Tomorrow they’re going to put an ankle monitor on me — but my life partner, she’s my biological ankle monitor,” Brommer says with a smile.

Outside the walls

The next day, shortly after 11 a.m., Brommer is standing out in front of the high walls of the forensic hospital carrying his two cardboard boxes, with 40 euros in his pocket. A cab is on its way to drive him to his girlfriend’s house. He had hoped on his first day out to take care of some administrative details — open a bank account and get his passport renewed — but banks and offices aren’t open as late on Fridays as he’d thought. So he and his girlfriend make other plans: an afternoon shopping trip. This will be the first time the two are together in unmonitored conditions.

Still, Brommer says he’s not feeling the full sense of happiness he’d hoped for. He’s worried that he’ll become the target of a “witch hunt” because he knows from the media how much the public mistrusts people like him is.

He claims he’s a changed man. “Am I dangerous? No!” he says emphatically, only to contradict himself a breath later. “Could I be violent and dangerous? Yes! It depends on the situation.” He is no different than plenty of others in that regard, he claims. Sitting on the living room couch, his companion notes how trapped he still feels by his time in the hospital. “We the therapists tried to inculcate social behavior, but in there they just leave them to rot.”

Brommer doesn’t have any plans right now except for “staying away from Munich’s criminal milieu. I don’t want anything to do with that anymore.” If all goes well, he’ll be able to find odd jobs. He says all the years of detention have taught him to accept help. He couldn’t do that before. He also says he no longer gets so hot under the collar when provoked: “When somebody calls me an idiot, I just say, ‘Okay. Tell me about it.’ ”

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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