Boris Becker began his sentence on Friday and was taken to London’s Wandsworth Prison. A place known for its harshness. Former prisoner Chris Atkins told t-online how the tennis star lives there.
Sex offenders, psychopaths, drug addicts – and tennis legend Boris Becker right in the middle. Since Friday afternoon, the former professional athlete has been sitting in London’s Wandsworth Prison, one of the toughest prisons in the UK, to delay bankruptcy. A dark Victorian stone building that has not changed much since it opened in 1851.
Wandsworth Prison: This is where Boris Becker is serving the start of his sentence. (Source: image alliance)
“This place is pure horror. Everything about it is awful,” Chris Atkins reports in an interview with t-online. The British writer and filmmaker was convicted of tax fraud in 2016 and spent months there, with Boris Becker now serving the start of his two and a half years in prison. He knows this: The tennis star is currently going through the toughest time because he is locked inside a closed room with the “most scary characters”.
Hundreds of criminals are convicted in London every day, and many of them go straight to Wandsworth, the second largest prison in the British capital. “All newcomers are initially accommodated in the so-called hospitalization wing, including the mentally ill and inmates on drug rehabilitation,” Atkins reports. “It’s the worst wing of the prison, noisy and full of violence.”
The prisoners are housed in five different wings. (Source: Anthony Devlin / picture alliance)
“If he’s lucky, he can go out for an hour a day”
Only after days of isolation are the prisoners divided into different areas. There is no celebrity status, not even for a Boris Becker. He has to divide his cell, the task is random. The space made of “cement and dirt,” as Atkins says, covers nearly six and a half square feet. Almost no sunlight penetrates through the window slits. “You sleep on hard bunks with your head on the toilet bowl.”
Becker will spend the first few weeks behind closed doors almost around the clock. “If he’s lucky, he can go out in the yard for an hour a day to stretch his legs,” explains the British author. Otherwise, the triple Wimbledon winner will not see much, but the same four walls.
Chris Atkins: The British author and filmmaker has written a book about his time at Wandsworth. (Source: private)
Even the food is eaten in the cell. There are no fixed bedtimes or a wake-up call – “there is still nothing to do”. The only “highlight”: At 11:30 a.m., each prisoner is allowed to pick up lunch, which Atkins says is an “inedible porridge.” Breakfast for the next morning is delivered directly. A bag of some bread, milk, tea – “if you’m lucky, so does coffee”. For dinner there is a thawed sandwich.
The standard of hygiene is also cross-border, “there is a shower every few days, with 150 men under three showers protruding from the ceiling”. The prisoners can hardly pass the time. “Some cells have TV, they run a few programs, just like the news.” Sport is a big topic, there is even a gym, but there is such a shortage of staff in Wandsworth that there is simply no way to bring the prisoners there and monitor them.
A little contact with the family
Contact with his family is limited for Boris Becker. He is allowed to call selected numbers at certain times. Visits are only twice a month for one hour each. Photographs are one of the few personal items that prisoners are allowed to take with them. “Otherwise, they give up everything – even their identity, they’re just a number.”
Boris Becker’s son Noah and his partner Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro helped him pass sentence. (Source: dpa)
A Boris Becker does not stand out. According to Atkins, both guards and inmates know for sure who the tennis legend is, but there is so little interaction with each other that it matters the same. “They do not care about Boris. As long as he does not cause trouble, they leave him alone.”
Atkins is sure the tennis star will not stay in Wandsworth for too long. “It’s a kind of throughput prison. He will be classified as very low risk, and after a few weeks he will be transferred to a lower security facility,” the filmmaker predicts. With good behavior, he sees him free again in less than half the time.
What does he advise Boris Becker until then? “Behave unobtrusively and let it take you.” Becker is a sports hero who has already proven on the court how tough he is. “It will change him, but not break him,” Atkins believes. “Right now he may feel sorry for himself, but after months in British prison he will realize how lucky he really is. He will not perish like hundreds of his fellow prisoners in this dysfunctional system, but will be able to return. “to his family, back to his life. And he will appreciate that,” the author believes.