CRIMINAL RECORD AS BIOGRAPHY
JURISPRUDENCE I
22 - 27 NOVEMBER 2012, VECHTA

 

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Ulrike Möntmann, artist, Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Vienna, Austria

Rebecca Mertens, prisoner, Vechta, Germany

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At this Accomplices’ Meeting, Mertens and Möntmann continue their dialogue, which has been taking place since 2001, about life as drug addicts and conviction for prison sentences in the revolving door effect. Their collaborative research was approved by the management of the institution and the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony and serves to analyse and show the connections between criminal offences and legal and social consequences in the lives of drug-prone women.

 

WORKSHOP WITH REBECCA MERTENS

 

Rebecca is not exempted from compulsory labour, but we are able to work together each day from 1.30 p.m. until locking up time at seven in the treatment room of the work section. At the weekend and when she doesn’t have to work, we start already in the morning. We are allowed to work without supervision. When I enter the prison, I am given a cell phone for if I need to get in touch with the prison authorities or if I want to be picked up. Rebecca states several times in writing that she gives her permission for me to see all her existing prison files. Helmut König brings the files requested, some of which have to be found in the cellar. I have to tell him which papers I want copied which he then will do.

 

The data on Rebecca is stored in various administration systems, in different types of files, from handwritten and typewritten detailed descriptions of crimes to computer lists of the paragraphs applied. In the course of a day, two tables fill up with piles of dusty, faded pink loose-leaf prison folders. It will take me days to go through the files and decide what needs to be copied.

 

The objective of our work is to look at the crimes, the court decisions, the application of laws and paragraphs, and the actual periods of imprisonment and to juxtapose them with the events that Rebecca cited in her biography. To begin with, what interests me is everything that comes under the heading “crime related to the procurement of drugs”, and how offence and term of imprisonment relate to each other. Also, which facts lead to a “revolving door” phenomenon in relation to recurrent readmission to prison.

 

To inventory the offences I have prepared huge tables of categories. We make lists of Rebecca’s offences and specify (1) in which kind of environment they were committed (private, public, isolated, i.e., prison or closed facility); (2) in cases of theft or robbery, which objects were stolen and what was their value; (3) whether Rebecca was prosecuted for the offence; (4) what kind of punishment was meted out for the offence (none, intervention by authorities, a caution, an official complaint, prosecution, sentencing, imprisonment): (5) to which type of institution was Rebecca referred (none, a home, detention of a juvenile delinquent, prison for young offenders, suspended prison sentence, open prison, closed prison) and where she served the sentence. In the tables I enter general terms of offenses: petty theft, aggravated theft, robbery, extortion, causing harm to the environment, criminal damage of property, bodily harm, offences against life and person, sexual offence, drug offence, fraud, offences against personal liberty. I include prostitution as an indirect crime because the law has changed during the past twenty years with regard to factors such as age limits, definition, conditions of criminal responsibility, and legality. It is clear that Rebecca’s activities in this respect are illegal because she is not registered nor does she possess a health certificate, but the specific factual circumstances are not clear at this point in time so it is not possible to say exactly with what, when, and who was guilty of an offence. I shall have to study the law texts later. For now, I follow the information that Rebecca has given me.

 

There is not enough space on the A0 size paper to enter the cases of petty theft that Rebecca was prosecuted for (only about 10%). It is easier with the other offences: one conviction for aggravated theft, one for robbery, one for bodily harm, two drug offences. On a different sheet of paper Rebecca lists the crimes perpetrated against her: from the first year of her life to age eleven grievous bodily harm, in her first year possibly sexual abuse, from age nine to fourteen regular sexual abuse. We address the themes of “person of trust” and the sex trade in prisons, in legal parlance the “abuse of position of trust”. In this connection Rebecca is obstinate: she does not see the sexual acts with the person of trust in prison as an offence which took place against her will. After I have read the text of the law to her, she — reluctantly — adds the “deals” made with the person of trust in prison that took place from age eighteen to twenty-four to the other sexual offences committed against her. On this sheet of paper detailing the crimes where Rebecca was the victim, the column headed Consequences/Sentence or Penalty stays blank.

 

In a further table we list the types of drugs, medication, and alcohol that Rebecca has consumed up to now together with details of the diagnosis and situation; the third column contains the dose and amount required. Once we have ascertained the amount, we can calculate the costs as well as the current market value; these vary according to societal and geographic location: in prison heroin costs around double as much as on the street. We do the calculations and compare income and expenditure.

 

 

Cf.: Ulrike Möntmann THIS BABY DOLL WILL BE A JUNKIE – Report of an Art and Research Project on Addictions and Spaces of Violence. Introduction: Peter Weibel. Published by Edition Angewandte, De Gruyter, 2018, page 302 – 303