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Germany

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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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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