UNMC Crime Study Turns Into Production at KANEKO in Omaha

Eric Meyer, former police officer and producer and writer of "Listen to My Story." (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)
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January 30, 2018 - 6:45am

It’s not often that an academic study on crime turns into a theatrical production, but that’s just what’s happening tomorrow night in Omaha when “Listen to My Story” takes the stage at KANEKO. The one-time performance will help disseminate the results of a study on crime in North Omaha in a way that’s easier to relate to. The man behind the production is a former police officer who’s now looking at crime through a different lens.

This is all new for Eric Meyer. After 17 years as a police officer in Lincoln and Omaha, Meyer is now a Ph.D candidate at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health. After a year of research on a qualitative study on violence in North Omaha, he wanted a better way to get the results to the community.

“In my research, I was always bothered that the dissemination was limited, that it wasn’t accessible to people outside of science,” Meyer said. “So with my creative energies, I was trying to think of a way to connect research with the general public and I thought art would be a wonderful way to do that. That’s why I turned it into a performance.”

Meyer interviewed mothers in North Omaha who had been touched by violence and offenders who were often part of gangs and led criminal lives. In the production, he picks five characters and tells their stories.

"Listen to My Story" actors at rehearsal at KANEKO in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

“I was amazed that these individuals whom I had just met, most of them, were so willing to share their darkest hours with me,” Meyer said. “To give me information that was just horrific. They had no reason to do this, other than they just wanted to help.”

In the case of a character he calls “Michael”, he had met him years ago when he was a police officer in North Omaha.

“The last time I saw Michael, and I didn’t realize this when I was going to meet Michael for this interview, was that the last time I saw Michael, he was laying in the street with nine bullet holes in him and I was a cop,” Mayer said.  

Michael’s character is played by local actor Devel Crisp, who grew-up in North Omaha and knew some of the real people in the crime study.   

“I’m glad that those stories are being told,” Crisp said. “We can get it better out to the public this way and I think us reading gives the human factor to it.”

The production captures the reality of how crime affects people.  

“I’m not necessarily interested in the statistics, the numerics of crime. I’m more interested in the context,” Meyer said. “The stories that people live in. For the questions that I have, it only can be answered through a personal narrative, through observations, not through statistics.” 

Dejun Su, Ph.D, director of Center for Reducing Health Disparities at the University of Nebraska Medical Center's College of Public Health. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

Meyer’s study found most of the people he interviewed never received professional help to deal with trauma related to crime. He also suggests an early, trauma-informed approach to violence prevention could be effective in areas like North Omaha.

“We concentrate so much on the offender at times that we forget that all of these men and all of these boys start their exposures to violence at a very young age, and that kind of follows them throughout their lives,” Meyer said.

Dejun Su, Ph.D, is the director of the Center for Reducing Health Disparities at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health. He says he hopes to see more partnerships like this one that help disseminate important information in a way that’s relatable.

“This collaboration with KANEKO is a great opportunity because it offers us a very nice platform that we can better spread words and messages and hopefully more partnerships and discussion might be coming out of this,” Su said.

As Meyer and the cast of his production get ready for the performance at KANEKO, he’s pretty sure he’s onto something.

“Numbers can tell you what’s going on, but they can’t tell you why it’s happening,” he said. “That’s the goal of this performance, is to explain why things are happening.” 

He wants to reduce the stigma associated with being a crime victim or living in a high crime area and hopes this fresh approach will open up a whole new way of sharing important information.



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