Christine Lohle has been a physical education teacher at the Elsau Prison in Strasbourg for 30 years. In The Prisoner Balloon, published by Editions de l’Harmattan, she recounts her most significant encounters with prisoners.
She dreamed of being a physical education and sports teacher for “not to be enclosed between four walls”. Christine Löhle has just spent 30 years teaching sports in prison, in the Elsau Detention Center to be exact.
She knew six directors and many deputy directors, dozens of guards, hundreds of prisoners, often the same ones, because the recidivism rate is very high.
Through their travels, their stories, their anxieties or their anger, these men and women have marked her. She talks about it in a book called dodge ball published February 2022 by Harmattan.
“Looking for a physical education teacher in prison : It’s because of this seen advertisement that when she teaches high school sports, Christine Loele first goes to jail. She is 28 years old. The beginning of a long story where all the difficulties lie on the ridge line: “Being great without being distant”.
“The sports space is a place to escape from prison: together with the library, it is a favorite place for prisoners. This provides a moment of well-being and forgetfulness that ends as soon as they return to the aisles at the end of the session. For female prisoners, this is more of a time when they enjoy interacting with their cellmates. For the guys, this is the time when they can get status: sports status is very respected. For men, a sports session resembles classical physical education..
At the top of popular activities: football. “No wonder, it’s almost the only one we see on TV!”Christine Loele gets irritated,”Prisoners commentate matches. For them, it is also a way to confirm their belonging, their identity.. Among the highlights, Christine Löhle recalls the arrival in July 2009 of Lilian Thuram, an effective defender for the former France 98 team.
The physical education teacher recalls in the preamble “that 30 years ago tattoos were mainly reserved for thugs, sailors and convictsFrom a front row seat to watch these men in shorts, Christine Loele is fascinated by tattoos.
The most touching thing, she remembers it very well: a window with four bars and an inscription i’m not a bad boy. Another bright sign: a tear. Getting a tear was in vogue in the 60s. If the tear is empty, it means that a friend or someone close has been killed. If the drop is filled with ink, then the tattoo wearer avenged the crime by committing it too. A tear can also mean a long prison term and sadness associated with it.
“In the 90s, tattoos were frowned upon and I saw them remove their tattoos using elementary means, which was completely forbidden.”
“I learned a lot about blatant, appalling inequalities. When prisoners tell me about their personal itinerary, I am always devastated. Devastated to learn that many have been beaten by their families and rejected by the school. School dropout is fairly systematic. If we put out a prisoner card and a school failure card, we get the same thing.”. The teacher she is is upset: “Sometimes I even doubt my school. It is true that it is difficult to manage these rebellious, absent children, but how do you make them enjoy learning?
In her book, she admits that she was afraid only three times, and especially after the fact. Kristin Loele is aware of this: the relationship with the physical education teacher is not the same as with the guards. “I’m already in a tracksuit, so no temptation. They don’t play balance of power with me. Women’s sensitivity also allows you to perceive tensions. There are signs. We see when the bodies are tense. In general, I manage to calm the game, sometimes you can remember the rule just by smiling, and it works. Goodwill and firmness: this is his recipe.
The teacher sometimes meets former prisoners in the city:In general, these are quick and warm meetings. We keep track of courses or prisons they made, we break news to each other, but that’s it.“. She always took care to put the necessary distance.
His book dodge ball was released in February 2022. She plans to leave it at the library, the room next to the gym, and another escape location. Curious to hear their feedback, Christine Loele intends to continue playing sports with prisoners until June 2023, the date of release from her professional duties.