Strasbourg. Sports teacher for 30 years in Elsau prison, ‘there is no balance of power between me and the prisoners’


Christine Loehlé has been a sports teacher at Elsau prison in Strasbourg for 30 years. In the Ballon prisoner, published by Editions de l’Harmattan, she describes her most important encounters with the prisoners.

She dreamed of becoming a physical education and sports teacher. “It shouldn’t be closed between four walls”. Christine Loehlé, or rather the Elsau detention centre, spent 30 years in prison as a sports teacher.

Six head teachers and many deputy principals, dozens of inspectors, hundreds of inmates, often knowing the same prisoners, because the repeat crime rate is so high.

These men and women have imprinted it throughout their journey, their stories, their worries or anger. He describes it in a book entitled Dodge ball Released by Harmattan editions in February 2022.

We are looking for a sports teacher in the prison environment” : Christine Loehlé stepped into prison for the first time thanks to this spotted ad while she was a high school sports teacher. 28 years old. The beginning of a long story where all the difficulty lies in a ridge line: “To be different without being distant”.

The sports ground is the prison escape: the library and the prisoners’ favorite place. It provides a moment of well-being and oblivion that ends as soon as you return to the crossing paths at the end of the session. For female inmates, this is a time when they mostly like to chat with fellow inmates. It is a time for men to gain status: sporting status is highly respected. A gym session for men is similar to a classic gym session”.

Top of the popular activities: football. “Don’t worry, that’s the only person we’ve seen on TV!”Christine Loehlé gets angry, “Prisoners comment on matches. It is also a way for them to confirm their belonging, their identity.. Among the highlights, Christine Loehlé remembers the July 2009 arrival of Lilian Thuram, the influential defender of the former France 98 team.

The sports teacher recalls in the preface “Thirty years ago, tattoos were mostly reserved for bandits, sailors, and convicts.Christine Loehlé, sitting in the front row to observe these men in shorts, is fascinated by tattoos.

The most mobile remembers it very well: a window with four bars and an inscription I’m not a bad boy. Another striking sign: tears. Tears were very fashionable in the 60s. If the tears are empty, it means that a friend or relative has been killed. If the drop is full of ink, the owner of the tattoo has also avenged the crime by making a tattoo. Tears can also mean a long prison sentence and the associated sadness.

“In the ’90s, tattoos were not welcome and I saw them removing their tattoos using primitive methods, which was totally forbidden.”

I learned a lot about glaring, terrible inequalities. I always break down when prisoners tell me about their personal itineraries. It was devastating to know that many of them were beaten within their families and rejected by the school. School refusal is highly systematic. If we paste a prisoner card and a school failure card, it’s the same thing”. Disappointed teacher: “Sometimes I even question my institution. It’s true that managing these unruly, absentee kids is hard, but how do you enjoy learning about them?”

In her book, she admits that she was scared only three times, especially after the event. Christine Loehlé is well aware of this: the relationship with the sports teacher is no different from the relationship with the inspectors. “I’m already in a sweatpants, so no seduction. They are not playing the balance of power with me. A feminine sensibility also makes it possible to perceive tensions. There are signs. We see bodies getting tense. I usually manage to calm down the game, sometimes remembering a rule can be done with just a smile and it works.” Helpfulness and determination: that’s the recipe for it.

The teacher sometimes meets ex-prisoners in town: “Overall, these are quick and hot encounters. We track the courses or prisons they built, we inform each other, but that’s it.“. He always took care to keep the necessary distance.

his book Dodge ball It was released in February 2022. He plans to drop her off at the library, the room next to the gym, and other getaways. Curious about their feedback, Christine Loehlé plans to continue playing sports with detainees until June 2023, when her professional obligations expire.