It might have been one of the best accidents to happen to Susan Ritter.
When Ritter was a student working on her bachelor's degree at Texas Woman's University in Denton, a sociology and anthropology professor encouraged her to do an internship at a federal co-ed prison in Fort Worth.
Ritter said at the time she had her mind on law school, but she decided to take the advice and try the learning opportunity.
"I got to see so many more things than I would see as an officer," Ritter, a Brownsville resident, said about the accidental internship.
She went on to become one of the first Texas Woman's University graduates to earn a bachelor's degree in government/sociology with a criminal justice concentration in 1980.
She spent nine years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons working in security, case management and drug and alcohol issues. Ritter said this work was her real world introduction to racial attitudes and gangs like the Crips and Bloods.
"It was a learning curve for both of us because they found authority is not gender specific," she said about the inmates.
Today, Ritter, an associate professor of criminal justice at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, is working with Harlingen's Juvenile Crime Graffiti and Gang Violence Task Force to listen and offer advice on crime research and gangs.
Her research interests are in correctional and criminal law, female delinquency and gangs.
One of the gangs she has studied so she has quality information to present to her students are the Mara Salvatrucha-Treces, a group with ties to Central America but began forming in Los Angeles in the 1980s among immigrants from El Salvador.
"I just fell into them by accident," Ritter said. "Someone had to put the pieces together."
Her knowledge about the group has been used by police officials as far away as New York. She has also presented her work at the Academy of Criminal Justice Science's annual meeting.
Besides Texas Woman's University, Ritter also has degrees from The University of Texas at Arlington and Sam Houston State University in Houston.
Daniel Perry is an informational writer for The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. For more on the university, log on to www.utb.edu..
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