Posts Tagged ‘Criminology’

The following was written by Tim Tucker, Message South Africa National Director for The Message Trust. You can learn more about this organization on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Tim Tucker South Africa Message Trust

Tim Tucker, from South Africa’s “The Message Trust”

PEP Pitch Day, Friday 14th November 2014.

Cape Town to Amsterdam. Amsterdam to Atlanta. Atlanta to Dallas. Dallas to Houston and Houston to Cleveland Correctional Center. It was a long trip. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Yes. Definitely. Without a doubt.

My organisation (www.message.org.za) runs programs for juvenile offenders in Cape Town, South Africa. This “pilgrimage” to Texas was to learn from PEP as we seek to deliver a similar programme in Cape Town’s prisons. Notorious for gangsterism, drug dealing and violent crime, we are constantly seeking to improve our interventions in Cape Town’s prisons in order to provide a greater opportunity for ex-offenders to be reintegrated into society. My exposure to PEP’s model greatly inspired and impacted me.

What I experienced was a wonderful blend of the PEP brotherhood, an extremely effective program, and the added dimension of an incredible spirit of determined and deliberate fun, that is a powerful recipe for rehabilitation. From the moment I was greeted by the most moving “guard of honor” I’ve ever experienced (loud music, cheering, and high-fiving the PEP participants), I recognised that PEP has developed something special. As Bert danced to the front to introduce the day, I realised that my British reserve needed to be shelved if I was going to maximise my experience. And from that moment on I was completely absorbed in all that took place.

But I was soon to learn that PEP is not just about feel-good motivational music, dancing, clapping, high-fiving and hoorah’s! We were split up into our various groups to listen to the pitches that the participants had prepared after five months of hard work. The first candidate began his presentation. His concept was well thought through and he presented in an articulate and compelling way. The executive next to me, John-  an experienced PEP business mentor – nudged me and whispered, “that will be one of the best two or three presentations today.” Boy was he wrong! After the next presentation he nudged me again… “wow” he said, “that will also be up there.” After the third equally high calibre presentation he was realising that he would need to eat his words! It was humbling and inspiring to listen to pitch after pitch that had been well thought through and matched the passion and gifting of each participant – together with some great innovative ideas. Scoring them was tough – particularly as, following John’s input, I gave the first participant extremely high marks…

As we gathered once more with the big group, it was evident that each executive had been greatly impacted and impressed. What was also evident is that I wasn’t going to escape from prison without the initiation of dancing… as all us “newbies” were summoned to dance forward. But it was a great privilege to be handed the microphone to share with everyone that the lessons learned on that day were going to make a tangible difference in South African prisons – although I know that South African dancing will eclipse the Texan two-step!

— Tim Tucker (Message Trust)

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.