The following was written by PEP volunteer, Jessica Middleton. Jessica is a Criminologist and Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology.


jessica middleton

There were several elements of that day that really struck me.  First of all, the dancing…  I have always been a firm believer in the healing power of dance.  When I was trudging through the darkest phase of my own life, it was dance that kept my spirit alive – salsa dancing in particular, but regardless of the method of dance, it is a healthy and accepted vessel for expression and release.  It puts a smile on your face and doesn’t ask for anything in return other than the pure enjoyment of its recipients.

I first heard about the coined concept of “social distance reduction” from Dr. Everette B. Penn, Criminologist and Professor at University of Houston-Clear Lake.  Dr. Penn was not only my professor, but also my academic mentor, always throwing extra tasks and challenges my way, I believe, just to see what exactly I was made of.  The first day we met, before I even began the Criminology program, mind you, I’m still just a Business Leadership/Management graduate, he instructed me to a  to write an entry for the African American Encyclopedia of Criminal Justice on the topic of “crime prevention.”  I knew absolutely nothing about criminology or criminal justice, much less that there was a difference between the two, but I had already claimed to be a strong researcher, therefore it was time to sink or swim!

Believe it or not, my submission was accepted into the encyclopedia which was simply miraculous, and I guess my submission had enough legitimate information to be published – WOW!

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Penn donned me as Managing Editor of a special issue academic journal called Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society, which was a pain, but Dr. Penn knew exactly what he was doing – giving me a REAL taste of  research, editing, and publication.  The ins and outs.  The peer reviews.  The rejections.  The unreturned voicemails and emails.  The absurdity of some of the so-called scholarly writing I had to drudge through.  He knew that again, I would decide to sink or swim.  I believe I swam…well, maybe doggie paddled.  Perhaps I just stayed afloat, who knows?  But the publication now rests in my library, so let’s get back to social distance…

So several UHCL scholars and innovators teamed up with community forces to create the Teen and Police Service Academy, also known as TAPS Academy.  The overarching goal of TAPS Academy is to reduce the social distance between teens and law enforcement.  Theoretically, this should subsequently reduce crime.  Since I’ve not attempted to get my hands on any data testing TAPS impact, I cannot speak to the effectiveness of this particular program, but I can with full conviction say there is something mysteriously powerful about this “reducing social distance” concept.

I say all of that to say…drumroll please…reducing social distance, whether PEP recognizes it or not, is the cornerstone of this program that makes it so different than others, and envied by all.  You can teach a man how to write a business plan until you’re blue in face, but give him a mentor, a genuine accountability partner and a dedicated teacher all wrapped into one, and now we’re talkin’!

There is real, live, living power when you bridge such a chasm.  Social distance murders more relationships than do actual felons, but PEP…PEP is the bridge that slowly dissolves this ugly, unnecessary social distance that only divides us.  There is something very interesting going on here in Cleveland…something very peculiar…something I have never seen before.  Dare I call it special?  I mean, this is the stuff criminologist DREAM about!  Where did this come from?  I feel guilty for not knowing about previously, when I genuinely thought I was somewhat savvy when it came to TDCJ programs based on my research, thesis, etc.

But PEP…was flying under the radar…they had to be or else I would have been made aware of this a long time ago, and it embarrasses me, as a Criminologist and CRIM/CJ Professor, that I was not aware of PEP.  It was flying right underneath my nose. I am still disappointed and heartbroken that it took 20 classes for me to become a complete heart, mind, body investor in PEP.   But hey, God works, and it’s typically mysterious when it comes to my understanding, so I have learned to just say, “Thank you for the time I have been given.”

I can only hope that you all, PEP participants present, past, and future, feel the same way.  Gratitude is a stronger force than you know.  And on that note, since I am only a Criminologist, I will then hand it over to the Coaches, etc., to do their thang’.  I love you all dearly.

Warm Regards,

Jessica E. Middleton, M.A. 

Comments
  1. Anonymous says:

    Jessica,
    You my dear are the greatest!. PEP couldn’t do what they do so well w/out you. Thank you sooo very much for being you and your heart.
    Mama K Class 21

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