Darnell Thomas: Exploring the Criminal Mind
Samuel Vargas

Temple University graduating senior Darnell Kevin Thomas, Jr., is interested in exploring areas of the mind that few would want to dwell on, all in the name of making the world safer and more equitable.

"I started my college career as a psychology major, but I found myself more interested in the criminal aspect of psychology, like abnormal psychology. I find the way criminals think fascinating. What is it that makes a serial killer do the horrific things that they do — how can we learn more to prevent those things from happening in the future?" said Thomas, 26, who is completing his degree in Liberal Studies with a focus on Criminal Justice. "I feel that's a career path that can keep me interested and engaged every single day. I don't believe I'd think of it as a job perse; it would be more of a calling. The end goal is to become a prosecutor."

The prosecutor "I would argue, is the most powerful person in the courtroom" in terms of impacting lives, Thomas said.

"Originally when I switched from psychology to criminal justice, the thought was to pursue something along the lines of forensic psychology and or criminology but then I started focusing more on the law and the justice system," he said. "One of the things that cemented it for me was last year when the Black Lives Matter movement became so huge. I think a lot of people don't understand how powerful a prosecutor is. There are so many people in jail right now for non-violent, minor drug related crimes who probably shouldn't be there."

When it comes to the role of the prosecutor in those lives, Thomas said "you could look at these cases from a different, maybe a more extensive, more rehabilitative lens so that we could help fix these issues that are plaguing communities, especially communities of people of color."

"On a larger scale, state level and beyond, I think I might be able to have an impact on legislation that is disproportionately targeting these communities who are impoverished," he said. "But to do that, you need to be in a position that has the power to affect change. I think the prosecutor role would put me in that position."

Thomas, a transfer student from the Community College of Philadelphia, said making the move to Temple to realize his career goals was made all the easier by a dedicated group of advisors that helped him navigate the transition.

"At Temple, it's been a simple process to meet with my academic advisor to get everything situated with what classes I should be taking and in what semester. Instead of switching my major entirely, which would have added a lot of time, I've been able to complete my Liberal Studies degree on time while focusing on where I want to go in my career," he said. "My advisor at Temple Ambler, Kim Cooney, has been wonderful — we talk all the time and she'll check in on me throughout the semester just to make sure things are going well. When I needed to take some time off between semesters, I was able to pick right back up when the time was right."

Thomas said the smaller class sizes at Temple Ambler have been a great benefit in that "it feels like it is easier to connect with your professors and interact with other students."

"I've had the opportunity to take part in a lot of group and team assignments, which has taught me a lot about working, corresponding and coordinating with people to get things done on deadline," said Thomas, who for part of his time at Temple also worked full-time as a bankruptcy analyst for a mortgage company while taking classes in the evening and is currently working in the restaurant industry as he completes his degree. "For one of my last classes, we studied cybercrime by actually engaging in simulated cybercrime in a controlled environment. The theory was that the best way to defend against cybercrime is to know how to actually commit cybercrime."

Real-world, team-based experiences, Thomas said, are invaluable to students as they are taking the next step into their careers.

"It teaches you collaborative skills, which are beneficial in any career, and how to cooperate and delegate, particularly for large group projects where you have to break down the work and who will complete it in order to get the assignment finished on time," he said. "It taught me good time management skills because you know that people are dependent on you to complete your part of the project. These are experiences and responsibilities everyone will encounter post-graduation."

Looking toward the future, Thomas is planning to continue his Criminal Justice education at Temple.

"I think if anything reflects on how positive my experience at Temple has been it's that I want to continue to further my education here. It's why I've started my graduate application and hope to start graduate level classes in spring 2022," said Thomas, who also built connections outside of the classroom at Temple Ambler, joining the Ambler Campus Student Life Board as Treasurer. "In the immediate future my hope is to find an internship in a legal office or district attorney's office. I want the opportunity to see the inner workings of a courtroom; I want to see what the day-to-day will be like."

For students just starting out with their college career, Thomas' advice is simple — "Do your research."  

"Take the time you need to figure out what you are truly passionate about. You probably will change your major and that's perfectly fine. You're talking about potentially planning out your life's work — you should devote whatever time you need to determine that," he said. "I'd also definitely recommend networking and making connections with your professors and academic advisor. They can help you a lot, especially down the road with advice or letters of recommendation or just how to keep moving forward to achieve your goals."

Thomas said students also need to remember to take time to take care of themselves.

"College should be about growing as a person," he said. "Do the work, put in the effort, make the connections, but also enjoy this experience and have fun at this time of your life. It's only the beginning!"