Monthly Archives: January 2017

Visit from prospective new Prof

Friday 20th January 2017:

This morning I had an early start to get into work at 7am to have a Skype call with Kate Miller at UWS and the team working with us on our Erasmus+ grant from Italy, Finland, Denmark and Slovenia. The Skype call lasted almost two hours, and it was strange to be sitting in the USA talking to colleagues in all these different parts of Europe. Then we had a visitor to the School today – Nadine Connell was here as a candidate for Assistant Professor, and I met her first of all at lunch and then individually at 1.30, along with my other colleague Will. We heard about her research interests and got to know her. In the afternoon Nadine then gave a full seminar on her research to all of us in the School, and since it was Friday afternoon cheese and wine was provided. It was interesting to experience the rigorous recruitment process for new Professorial staff – a very different process from the one we have in Scotland, where candidates come and spend the day in the department, and the staff all get to know them, hear about their work and meet with them socially. Various colleagues met her at breakfast and dinner, and she also had a full interview with senior management.

I thought it was a very good idea to hold a seminar on Friday afternoon with cheese and wine – this brought the School staff together and it was a very nice social experience. John, Lincoln and I then went for cocktails and dinner with Nadine to the Farmer’s Table. Nadine is currently working at the University of Texas in Dallas and does a lot of work on school violence and it was nice to meet with her.

Today, one of the Faculty members in the School brought a spare toaster in for me so that’s going to be a big help to me and will save me cooking bread in the oven!

I managed to miss the televised Presidential inauguration today. It is an interesting time being here when all of this is going on the background and I have met quite a range of different viewpoints among people on Trump!

I left the restaurant tonight and went to Publix to get a few groceries in.

Tomorrow is to be a very sunny day so I intend to go to the beach for part of it!

Visit to Palm Beach

Thursday 19th January 2017:

This morning I went to the gym first thing and used my week-long pass again. Then I drove to West Palm Beach – it was an easy drive, straight up on the i-95 to junction 70 which took about 30 minutes. When I came off at the junction, the road where the police office is located was just around the corner. Luckily as I drove into a space, a man came up to my window and told me he still had over an hour on this meter and I could take his space. This was good because I then realised that the meters involved phoning a number to pay for parking, and if you don;t have an account you need to download an app. This allowed me the time to go in and introduce myself in the station, and the girl behind the desk then advised me that I could park in a multi-storey car park round the corner – so I went back out and moved my car.

When I went back in, I was shown up the second floor where I met Sergeant David Lefont. He showed me around the entire police office – the fingerprint unit, surveillance unit, firearms unit etc. I talked to him a little bit about my research, and he then introduced me to Sergeant Bill Nealy who is in charge of the gang operations in the city. Bill is extremely tall and looks like he could be about 6 foot 9! He introduced me to the gang structured in WPB, describing them as ‘neighbourhood-based gangs’, showing me their territories on a map and some of the activity they have on social media. He described some of the intervention and prevention work the police have been doing with several other partners. We arranged for me to go back next week to begin my work, including some ridealongs and interviews. I met several other staff members in the station and everyone was very friendly and welcoming. I was even shown how to access wifi in the station, and I have a feeling I will be spending quite a bit of time there working with the officers and looking at the work they are doing to reduce violent crime.

I then took a very quick walk around the downtown area of WPB before going back the car and driving back down the interstate to Boca Raton. I spent the afternoon making some calls to the West Palm Beach Sheriff office and working on my writing. I then skyped back home and talked to Karen and Alan and even got to say ‘hello’ the gerbils before enjoying an hour out at the pool before tea time.

At dinner time I tuned in to the national news and saw all of the build-up to tomorrow’s Presidential inauguration.

Second day of class

Thursday 18th January 2017:

Today I went to the gym early morning and had a good workout And I even managed to find my way there and back without sat nav! I then drove back to campus which takes only 9 minutes from LA Fitness and walked over to the office. It was another beautiful morning.

I managed to submit an article that I have been re-working with my colleague Kate Miller from UWS, Thomas Sogaard from Aarhus University and my colleague Tony Bone and PhD student Lisa Borchardt to the journal ‘Criminology and Criminal Justice’. Then it was time for class …

The second day with the students went very well. I did some input with them on classic theories on crime and deviance from the Chicago School of Sociology and introduced them to some classic early American gang studies. We had seminar discussion groups and the grad students led these groups – there was some great discussion among the students about strain theory and  how the various modes of adaptation that Robert Merton devised could be applied to the characters ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Johnny’ from the first series of ‘The Wire’. Then the students were asked to pick one classic theory and think about how it could be applied to the study of gangs in south Florida, while also identifying the theory’s limitations. Time flew by and before i knew it is was the end of class. The system of having grad students and undergraduate students together in the class is such a good one, I think – it really helps the grad students to take on important leadership roles, and for the undergraduates to learn from them. There is no shortage of discussion and feedback in this class and it is very rewarding. The grad students are also a real source of ideas and inspiration to me and again I joined them for coffee during our break today.

After class I did some work on my interview schedules for police interviews then went back to my apartment and had a meal, before returning to the office at 5 to meet with Bryan Kummerlan, the current and outgoing Chief of West Palm beach Police Department. I had a good meeting with him, and he told me a little bit about the context for the gang problems in the city and the wider West Palm Beach County, as well as some of the strategies that the police have put in place. This set me up for my longer meetings tomorrow in West Palm Bech Police Station.

Following this I went to my Wednesday evening study group in Boca Raton Community Church. we studied a passage from Galatians 2 focusing on Paul’s work as a champion defender of the Gospel and his focus on helping the ‘poor’. There were 8 of us in the group tonight and we had a good discussion. Bob, our group leader and David, one of the other guys in the group, led a prayer to me at the end which was nice. They gave thanks for all that I am adding to the group and prayed for protection for Karen and Alan until they join me here in March. I feel really blessed to have found this church and the people in it.

Tomorrow I make my first trip to West Palm Beach…


Tuesday – social security office and working

Tuesday 17th january 2017:

Today i got picked up by John Smykla at 8,25 am and we went to the social security office to try and apply for my card. There was a huge throng f people there by the time we got there and my heart sank! However, I was actually called quite quickly and presented all my documents from the huge folder of paperwork I have. The girl processed it all and told me that my card would arrive within 10 days. So – more waiting … but at least I know it is now in progress and as soon as I get my card I will be able to open a bank account and also to get my university passcode that will allow me access to all the electronic systems, including getting an email account!

We then drove back to FAU and I spent the day preparing for next week’s class, doing some more writing for my book and telephoning West Palm Beach police Department to set up an initial meeting with them. I managed to speak to the right person today, a sergeant who has arranged with me to visit them on Thursday and set up all the ridealongs and interviews for my research. So good progress of several counts today!

After work I went back and sat at the pool for a while – it was a beautiful day today, with temperatures in the 80s. I had my first meal cooked in the slow cooker this evening, and then worked on my writing in the evening.

Tomorrow I meet my students for the second time …

Monday holiday

Monday 16th January 2017:

Today was a national holiday so I took the opportunity to go and do some exploring. I drove out through end of the university and out round into Spanish River Boulevard and a few streets along I found LA Fitness. I went and paid for one session and trained there and I found it much better than the other place I tried – no personal trainers, and less pretentious. On the way out I told one of the agents my whole story, that I can’t get a bank account until I have social security card and won;t get a social security card for another 10 days or so and need to keep all the money I currently have for buying groceries etc and just need to have a few free passes to keep me going until I am in a better position. It took a long time to get him to understand how complex my current situation was and that I am not in a position to pay a membership fee, but eventually I think he took pity on me and gave me a week-long pass to use until I get my bank account set up. That means I now have a regular gym and it is very close to the university!

I came out of there and decided to go and look for the cottage that my mum and sister will stay in when they are here in February. I called the owner and arranged to meet her next weekend to see round the place, but in the meantime I went to check it out. I found it very easily – again it is in a street just off Spanish River Boulevard  – a quiet residential area and the cottage looks really nice, with a large garden at the back.

I then drove out of there and further along Spanish Rover Boulevard and discovered I was back at the same spot I had left the car to walk along the beach the other day – just minutes away from Highland Beach, where Karen and Alan and I will have the villa. I drove back along into Highland Beach and knocked on the door of Gino, who owns the villa just to let him know that I will come and pay him our first instalment early in february. Then I drove back to Spanish Rover Beach and spent a few hours there, lying on the beach, going in and out of the water and walking along the sand. It was a very relaxing afternoon!

Back to the apartment and cooking, washing and preparing for tomorrow then followed. Tomorrow I finally get to apply for my social security card!

Sunday – church, lunch and work!

Sunday 15th January 2017:

Today i went for my second visit to Boca raton Community Church. Again the singing and the preaching was very uplifting. On my way out, I met Bob who had led the study group I engaged with the other evening, and he invited me to come to lunch with him and and his wife and their friends. I thought that was a really kind thing to do and I went along. We had a really nice lunch in the Olive Garden restaurant – Bob and his wife Ruth have lived in Boca for 40 years but their friends David and his wife are ‘son birds’ and only come here for a few months each year.

After this I drove to the mall just beside the university and got another pillow for my bed and then went back to the apartment and did some work. I cooked my dinner and sat outside on the sun lounger beside the pool below the apartments while it was cooking! This evening I had beef, potatoes and corn on the cob. i also moved the furniture around in the apartment so that I now have the table and chairs where I eat my meals at the window – this is so much nicer and it now feels much more homely.

I spent the evening doing some more work on my new book. Tomorrow is a holiday so I hope to go the beach if it is sunny enough …

Visit to Highland Beach and Dinner

Saturday 14th January 2017:

Today I got up late and went for a jog around the campus, then I got ready and took a drive to the Original Pancake House which is located about 15 minutes away from FAU. I enjoyed the waffle, eggs and bacon I had, the coffee which was refill several times by the friendly waitress and then the walk around the rest of the mall afterwards.

I called Gino, the man who owns the villa that we are moving into when Karen and Alan arrive in March and arranged to go and see it today, since there was time before the new residents move in there later on the day. I drove to Highland Beach and as I weaved around the neighbourhood I was struck by the lush, green surroundings and the nice big houses all around. I drove into Highland Drive and arrived at number 1108 where we will be staying. There were 3 villa entrances all in the one building so I was unsure which one to go to so I knocked on them all. When I came to the third one Gino answered He came out of the door and led me to the middle door, and I then realised that the door I had chapped was for his own house and the middle door led into the villa he is renting. As we entered the villa, he showed me around – into the master bedroom which is very large and has a lovely king-sized bed and faces out to the front; then along the hall into the kitchen, lounge and dining area. The kitchen is spacious and the living room has a large TV that Alan will like. Gino then showed me into the second bedroom with twin beds and then took me out onto the back patio and pool area. I was amazed when I saw this – a large pool with a jacuzzi and an overlook into the lakes where boats are docked – such beautiful scenery all around. There are tables and chairs there and a boardwalk that stretches all around the lakes. Gino told me that, although we share the pool, he doesn’t use it and neither does the family on the other side. He also told me that we will get keys to a private beach!

I thanked him for showing me round and then walked along the street a little bit, where I bumped into a neighbour – a man called Steven who lives in a house a few doors down.  He is 72 and originally from New York but has lived here 20 years. He told me that it is very peaceful and quiet here and gave me directions to the local beaches. I thanked him and said I would see him in March. I walked along the road a bit further, and explored the surrounding neighbourhood. Then I got back in the car and started to drive back to FAU. On the way back I stopped the car beside the Spanish Rover Beach, got out the car and walked across the road. As I got closer I got my first glimpse of the ocean and then walked onto the sandy beach, took off my shoes and went and dipped my feet in the water – it felt great to feel the sea and sand again, and for the first time in Florida.

I then drove back to Publix and bought more groceries which hopefully will last me a couple of weeks. I got back the apartment around 3.15 and then John and Evelyn arrived around 3.45. We had gins and tonics, crisps and olives and they very kindly brought me their spare TV for the apartment and also a spare iron and ironing board. I then thought it would be a very good idea to Skype Karen and Alan to introduce them to the Smyklas, Karen came to the screen and we had a good laugh and it was great to see her meet Jon and Evelyn if only ‘remotely’ for now. Alan was too embarrassed to come to the screen because he has his pyjamas on!

We then went out for dinner to a really nice restaurant 15 minutes away called Farmer’s Table. We had lovely food there and had a good laugh.

Altogether a good Saturday!


Friday 13th january 2017:

Today I began the day be going to the gym – had a great workout and after the yoga class last night I felt really good. i came back and walked across the campus to work – it was a bright and sunny morning.

I spent a good part of the day preparing for my next class next week. It is nice to spend time on this and to really make it good, building in time for class seminar discussion as well as lecturing time. I also had coffee with two of my new colleagues, Seth and Vaughn, and we discussed how they might potentially work with me on some of my research here and we can think about joint papers. They gave me a lot of contextual information about West Palm Beach and about policing issues here which was really helpful. They also gave me some information about gyms in the area too!

I then finished off the day and walked back to the apartment. Had dinner and a couple of glasses of wine. That’s my first week over – now it;s a long wee end due to the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday. Today I also received word that I can apply for my social security number, so first thing on Tuesday I need to go to the social security office.

Over the weekend I hope to explore the beach and to see if I can find the villa we will move into in March. I also will be meeting John and Evelyn for drinks and food tomorrow evening.

Meeting with CJC and yoga

Thursday 12th January 2017:

Today I began work at just after 8am, amending an article I needed to send to a journal for potential publication. Then at 10.30am the department had a visit from members of the Criminal Justice Commission in Palm Beach County. We all did introductions and it was then very interesting to hear about all of the work they are involved in and the opportunities that there are for potential partnerships and applied research between FAU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the CJC. we then all went for lunch in the university club restaurant which was very nice. We had a good chat with each other and I talked a lot to Lisa Dario, who has worked under Scott Decker at Arizona State University in the past – he’s such a great scholar and a very nice guy, who has been very supportive of my work over the last few years. Lisa is doing some really interesting research and we have a lot in common. I got chatting to the members of the CJC as well about work and also about soccer – Rangers FC came into the conversation, as did Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea! This reminded me of home, which was nice!

After a very large lunch, I felt a little tired but managed to finish my review of literature for the next chapter of my new book in the afternoon. Then I had a Skype call with my son Alan and my sister, Lyn and then later my wife Karen and Alan. I then went back and had some dinner and then went to a yoga class in the evening. It was held in a studio just less than 10 minutes away – there were around 6 people in the class, and we did Hatha yoga which was quite challenging but I very much felt the benefit from it. I am anticipating sleeping well tonight, having experienced the deep relaxation that comes from the yoga practice! The teacher was very good and he was also very funny and so this is something I think I will go back to.

First day of class

Wednesday 11th January 2017:

This morning I began the day with breakfast and then walked across to the department to begin the day at 8am. It’s great to be able to get to work in just 10 minutes and enjoy the nice walk!

I worked for a while on my reading for the next chapter of my book on ‘Gangs and Spirituality’ and then Matt, one of the IT support people at the university, arrived at my office and managed to fix some of the issues I have been having with my wifi.

I then went to the first session with my class for Youth, Culture and Violence. One of my colleagues, Cassandra Atkin-Plunk, came and gave me a very fine introduction to the students which was very much appreciated. There were around 40 students in the class, with 9 of those graduate students who are currently studying towards their Masters. It was absolutely fantastic working with the students – we did lots of introductions, icebreaker and ‘getting to know you’ tasks and we had lots of fun! We then considered what they know already about gangs and violence and what they would like to know more about. As I moved around the groups I had some really terrific discussions with the students about the issues that sometimes cause gang violence such as social deprivation, difficult family lives, racial oppression etc. We broke for coffee and I went downstairs to Starbucks with some of the Grad students and continued with the great conversation. Then in the final session we looked at the syllabus for the module in detail, and I took questions. There were many questions and lots of great contributions! I think it is a fantastic system, having Grad students alongside undergraduates and am assigning them some leadership and supervision roles in class. They seemed really encouraged by the assessments I plan to give them, and all the students seem very enthusiastic about the module. I left the class buzzing – which is always a good sign. I just hope they enjoyed it as much as I did! The school secretary told me later on that one of the students had come in to the office full of enthusiasm and raving about the session – so that is a good sign!

After some further work on my book and a Skype call back to UWS, I had a great conversation in the afternoon with Seth Fallik, an Assistant Professor in the School who has done a lot of really interesting work on police investigations.

I then went back to the apartment and had dinner. Another good day and I feel really encouraged with the experiences I had with the students – they are going to be a great class to work with!