Prison writing contest 2021‘They call me Worm’Johannes J., Prison Social Therapeutic Institution Bochum, North Rhine-Westphalia
More than 300 inmates from 80 prisons and five youth in juvenile detention participated in the contest, which was organized by the German Prison Library Support Group in cooperation with the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), the Ministry of Justice of North Rhine-Westphalia, and the German reading project KonTEXT in Munich.
The jury selected 10 winning entries and presented an inmate in juvenile detention with an award for special recognition.
During the award ceremony, which took place at Bochum prison in November 2021, Johannes J. presented his winning entry, ‘They Call Me Worm’.
verses, lines and poems,
taken daily from real life,
what’s left is all that counts.’
Graffiti, Worm’s prison cell
only think what I think
when I think what they
only feel what I feel
when I feel what they
and only believe what I believe
when I believe what they
so nothing makes much sense any more!’
‘Hey, Worm, heard the news?’
‘Hey, Worm, you in the loop?’
People in prison don’t get to the point straight away. If someone has information to share, they always start with a lengthy introduction. Messages on the grapevine come through louder and clearer than Radio Gaga.
‘No, I’ve only been in the corridor for 14 seconds,’ I clarify.
‘Mecki tried to put himself away yesterday. But they found him just in time.’
In here, putting yourself away means committing suicide. So it seemed Mecki had tried to kill himself. Something like that always created an uproar.
‘Mecki literally still had skeletons in his cupboard!’
‘Mecki’s girlfriend cheated on him on the outside!’
‘Mecki owes the Ripper money!’
‘Hey, Worm, let’s talk,’ he greeted me, charming as ever.
‘Cem, hi, afraid my mind’s elsewhere at the moment. This thing with Mecki’s really bothering me,’ I responded.
‘Aw, come on, bro.’ In here, you immediately became part of the family every time someone wanted something from you. ‘And I’ve got some information for you about Mecki. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,’ he continued.
I accepted the offer. ‘Ok, what’s on your mind?’
‘Keep this to yourself. The Mecki thing’s bothering me too. I’m just as close as him to having a meltdown. Giving up. I’ve even started writing poems. I feel like a Viking who’s suddenly taken to baking unicorn biscuits. Let me show you one of them:
Mama was a doozer,
I couldn’t even learn a trade,
at best I was a loser,
Papa loved his vinyl records,
Mama loved a joke,
I only found this kind of love
when shooting up with coke.
I could feel myself rolling my eyes as if in slow motion.
‘Cem, that’s really cool. I think you’ve found something you should definitely keep working at. I bet it makes you feel properly free, at least on the inside. Trust me, I’ll stop by tomorrow with a special brew from my lab. And then things will start to look rosier again. Just you wait.’
Cem turned up the corners of his mouth and agreed with a wink.
‘Great, that always helps. Ok, my turn now. Forget all the stupid rumours. Mecki was over at mine just yesterday. The kid had lost all hope. And now his dog has gone and died on the outside. His last link to freedom. Just imagine, Worm. Him wanting to put himself away because of something like that. How low can you get? You have to help him somehow!’
the trust you get from love is a thing I’ve never found,
I’ve never walked an easy line between the couch and the bathroom,
everything’s been full of pain from the cradle to the tomb!-
First of all, I went to my lab to brew up a decent concoction for him. The results were good, I pulled myself together and when I turned my head briefly, I spotted a solution to my as-yet unresolved problem reflected in the mirror. A balloon-shaped blister had formed on my scalded lip, disgusting to behold. I urgently needed to get myself some ointment, and only the infirmary had it in stock. I had my green tea to thank for it.
A tinny voice shot back: ‘What’s up, Schneider?’
‘Mr Dorner, I’ve scalded my lip really badly and need to see a medic straight away,’ I croaked like a wounded crow.
‘Dear oh dear, Schneider, you dozy bookworm. Take your eyes off the page when you’re drinking. I’ll be right over.’
Reading, writing and using a prison library can open up a world beyond prison bars, allowing prisoners to forget for a time the harsh reality of prison life. Literacy initiatives can benefit individuals of any age by increasing their self-awareness and their ability to discuss thoughts and feelings. This, in turn, improves coping and problem-solving abilities and thus represents a powerful transformative tool for personal development in the prison environment.
Learn more Books beyond bars: The transformative potential of prison libraries