Jens Soering is back in Germany this morning – paroled after more than 33 years behind bars, 29 of them in Virginia. He was convicted in the brutal murder of his girlfriend’s parents – a crime he insists he did not commit.
Before leaving, Soering gave an exclusive interview to Radio IQ’s Sandy Hausman who has covered his case for nearly a decade.
“Oh my goodness," Soering joked as Hausman set up a microphone at the ICE detention center in Farmville. "We’re doing this professionally. God! The pressure is on!"
Jens Soering is a happy man – excited about his future. When he entered prison, there were no cell phones, no Internet and no high tech exercise machines like the one he discovered in Farmville.
“They’ve got these really nice elliptical machines. I’d seen those on TV," he recalls. "It was only on the third time at the gym that I finally worked up the courage to try out one of these ellipticals, and I love it. Oh my God. I’ve got to get one!”
Given his enthusiasm for such a small thing and his excellent health at the age of 53, Soering expects to enjoy the rest of his life, but he knows the transition will be difficult. He’s estranged from remaining relatives – his father and brother, but will have help from a prominent German doctor and his family who read about Soering’s case and made contact.
“One of the things they’ve set up for me is that I already have a psychiatrist over there who is trained in trauma and PTSD whom I can see any time I want to,” Soering says.
Trauma and post traumatic stress are common in people who’ve spent time in prison, and no wonder.
“I have seen many friends die around me," he explains. "I came back from breakfast one time, and my cellmate had hung himself from my bunk. I’ve seen guys die of illness, seen guys die of overdoses. I’ve seen guys nearly die from violence – they got very badly hurt.”
To protect himself, Soering began running 8-10 miles every couple of days, lifting weights and doing hundreds of calisthenics. He also found a way to move up the social ladder – helping prisoners get cigarettes and food from the commissary when they ran short of cash.
“I became a loan shark with two other prisoners. That gave me a position in the prison hierarchy, and I did it so I wouldn’t be raped. Quite coincidentally I ended up making money, and I revolutionized the prison loan sharking industry, because it was based on violence, and I convinced these guys I was working with – Hey, it’s not a good idea to beat up customers. I introduced them to ideas like cartel formation, credit references, and especially customer relations. For our best customers at Christmas, they got little gift bags.”
That, he says, is a unique story that may hold appeal for conference organizers in search of motivational speakers – business groups interested in resilience.
“I see my life as a long struggle towards victory that I have now achieved. This is not the life I would have chosen for myself, but it’s the life I had, and I’m okay with my life. I could have become a hedge fund manager and be filthy rich now. Well there’s a whole lot of filthy rich hedge fund managers, and there’s only one of me.”
Media companies are already checking in with his agents in Germany, the U.S, and U.K. – requesting speeches, proposing made-for-TV movies and books. But first, Soering will take some time to adjust – going on vacation with his new family to a warm, sunny spot for the holidays. He rarely shows emotion, but tells me a story from ancient Greece of mercenaries returning from war.
“When they’ve reached the sea, now they’re within sight of the Greek colonies. They’re home. They call out – talata, talata, the sea, the sea,” he says. His voice cracks and he stifles a sob. “Because they’re home. That’s what I’ve been fighting for.”
To hear the full interview with Soering, click here.