1st Quarter, 2009
My name is Sofia Peralta I am currently enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park where I am pursuing my doctoral degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice. My long-term goal, after completing a PhD, is to secure a position where I can teach, conduct scholarly research, and help my community. It is my desire to continue my research and expand my knowledge on the various aspects of corrections, domestic violence, and immigration, specifically among the Latino community. When I am not in school or conducting research, I enjoy traveling, hiking, reading Spanish literature, exercising, and volunteering.
A Portion of Sofia’s Winning Essay:
“El único modo de sobresalir en este país es obteniendo una educación.”
I cannot count the number of times I have heard my parents repeat this statement: the only way to be successful in this country is to attain an education. My parents emphasized how obtaining an education would help me understand diverse people and cultures, prepare me for the future, and help me make a difference in my community.
My parents immigrated from Mexico with only an elementary education; my dad toiled long hours as a shipping clerk and my mom worked as a customer service agent. Additionally, witnessing my brother’s dropout of high school made me recognize the paramount importance of an education.
Thus, at the age of nine I realized that I would pursue my education and one day obtain a doctorate degree. Uncertain about what I would study, it was at the age of fifteen, under appalling circumstances that I discovered what discipline I would pursue. As I came home late one night, I realized that my brother was gone. Through her tears, my mother explained that my brother was in jail for selling marijuana to an undercover police officer. He was a minor at the time of the crime and turned eighteen when his sentence was determined. Therefore, the judge proposed two options, (1) six months in a juvenile facility or (2) three months in prison. My bother opted for three months in prison.
During those months, we visited my brother every week until he was released. I distinctively remember that day; it was a Saturday evening in May when my brother arrived home. A few days passed before my brother retreated from his room. The behaviors he learned while incarcerated (e.g., mixing his food in a bag, sleeping with all his clothes, hiding his food, etc.) were slowly vanishing.
A few weeks later, he began to express to me the conditions and the people he encountered during his incarceration. He reluctantly shared how his own fear of victimization led him to stay awake almost everyday. He described how the food was so atrocious that people would sneak in contraband and risk facing the consequences rather than eat the prison’s dreadful food. The appalling conditions and experiences he encountered during his three-month incarceration made me question the criminal justice system.
I began to speculate whether other inmates were experiencing similar conflicts. It was during these profound conversations with my brother that my interest in the field of criminal justice embellished. Soon after, I began to inquire about the discipline, and, with the guidance and support of several professors, I found internships in law firms and police departments.
Uncertain about what aspect of the Criminal Justice System I wanted to pursue, I slowly began to eliminate professions based on my experiences. Upon entering college, I knew I was not going to become a lawyer or police officer. However, it was after taking a statistics course at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) with my undergraduate mentor Dr. Denise Herz that my intrigue in education and research began. This course captured my imagination by revealing the breadth of interesting topics in Criminal Justice.
Shortly thereafter, I earned my bachelors degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology from California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) in December 2006. To attain my goal of becoming a researcher I am currently attending California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) pursuing my Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice. My long-term goal, after completing a PhD, is to secure a position where I can both teach, mentor and conduct research.
In preparation for my chosen career, I have acquired valuable experience through various internship and volunteer positions. While attending CSULA, I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant. Additionally, in the summer of 2006, I was a teaching assistant for an Introduction to Psychology course at Los Angeles City College and CSLAU. As a teaching assistant, I ran the statistics lab and assisted students with the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) and their research projects. The experience to work side-by-side with a professor in the development of a syllabus, lectures, homework assignments, data entry, and coding was both resourceful and rewarding.
As a graduate student, I continue to engage in various research projects. For 18 months I was a research assistant at CSULB working on a grant that will examine the effectiveness and impact of residential substance abuse treatment for parolees in California. During the summer of 2008, I was involved in the development of the risk and needs assessment instrument that will be utilized for the evaluation of the two aftercare treatment programs within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Furthermore, during the past year, I was a teaching assistant for Dr. Connie Ireland in her Corrections, Drugs and Crime through Film, and Statistics courses.
I have gained valuable knowledge relevant to lecturing, grading, and assisting students. My participation in the research project and teaching have only reinforced my personal interest and enthusiasm for the subject of Criminology and its fundamentals.
My interest in research has also led to my desire to gain hands-on experience in this field. In 2006, I was employed by Gateways Residential Re-entry Center, a program that provides court-mandated residential treatment, outpatient, and supervision services to men and women between the ages of 18 and 59.
In 2007, I worked as a Field Interviewer for a non-profit research organization (Research Triangle Institute- RTI) which conducted research on the National Inmate Survey. This project involved traveling to several correctional institutions throughout California to administer Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) surveys to inmates. During my time there, I learned valuable skills necessary to be a well-rounded researcher, such as teamwork, interviewing skills, and the process of dealing with special populations.
Beyond academics and work experience, I have sought out other opportunities that will aid in the process of reaching my objective. For example, in the summer of 2008, my article on domestic violence was published in The Criminal Law Bulletin. My interest in domestic violence has come from many years of careful and thoughtful observations of women around me. As I began my college education, I became involved in classes where I could exercise my general interest in issues of domestic violence (i.e., statistics, research methods, psychology, sociology and gender) by researching and writing term papers that examined different reasons women chose to stay in abusive relationships.
Between conducting library-based research projects and watching nightly news broadcasts about women being kill or brutally beaten by an intimate partner, I realized that more research was needed in this area. Beyond potentially adding to existing empirical findings, I hope my research can result in policy changes and potential improvements to the Criminal Justice system. I believe that through my research, I will be able to understand issues that lead to domestic violence, and perhaps identify viable interventions.
With all the skills I have obtained, and will continue to acquire, I plan to contribute to the field of Criminal Justice by engaging young minds at the university level as a professor. In order to keep abreast of the ongoing changes in the field, I also look forward to conducting research in our socio-economically disadvantaged communities. It is my desire to continue my research and expand my knowledge on the various aspects of corrections and domestic violence outlined above. As a woman from a Hispanic background, I feel that I will have an advantage working within the Latino community by serving as an asset when investigating the variables associated with domestic violence and prison conditions among members of this cultural group. Being of Hispanic descent gives me the significant advantage in regard to establishing trust and/or rapport. From my perspective, a doctorate degree should benefit more than just me; it should also benefit the community in which I live.