Once A Jailbird (1934) or Wer einmal aus dem Blechnapf frisst (The World Outside)
- He who once eats from the tin plate will eat from it again.
This grim novel is not merely about prison inmates and ex-convicts, but one using a social theme typical of Fallada, satirizing Hitler's New Germany with subtle criticism. It was published in 1934, just a year after the Nazi takeover, and so it's not surprising that Fallada might have subdued any political viewpoints.
Willi Kufalt, convicted of embezzlement and forgery, has served his time in prison and is released to work for his keep at a half way house set up by the new regime. After five long arduous years, he's happy to be free and vows that once the grim gray prison walls are behind him, he will never lay eyes upon them again.
But, the world outside that Willi had dreamed of is not what he encounters - his efforts to reform are hampered by the stigma of his prison record, and he is made to feel an outcast, not fit to associate with his fellow man. Resigning himself to this miserable fate, he begins to drink heavily and returns to the one thing he knows - the life of crime. He realizes he does not understand the world outside, and soon he's back in the environment in which he feels quite at home.
Fallada also drew on his own real life experiences in creating his sympathetic antihero, Willie Kufalt: notably the drinking, white collar crime, imprisonment, and estrangement from his family. The novelist's cynical perception of an unforgiving society is quite clear, and although written for specific German societal awareness, Once A Jailbird does have a modern and universal appeal. Some jailbirds of today may find an easier, cushier life being in prison than dealing with the outside world; to be honest, would a jailbird give up the roof over his head and the somewhat organized life he'd become accustomed to if he didn't have to?
How good it was to be back again. No more worries. Almost like home in the old days...It was better. Here a man could live in peace. The voices of the world were stilled. No making up your mind, no need for effort. Life proceeded duly and in order. He was utterly at home. And Willi Kufalt fell quietly asleep, with a peaceful smile on his lips.
Sweet dreams, Willi.