The Harlem Community Justice Center's Reentry Services are located in East Harlem
The choir started off the celebration this year at the Reentry Court Graduation
During the summer, we host a block party and celebration for Reentry clients and their families
May 14, 2013
May 13, 2013
Apr 26, 2013
What do you do at the Harlem Community Justice Center?
I am one of two deputy project directors here at the Justice Center and I oversee our reentry initiatives.
What was your pathway to justice work and what advice do you have for young women entering this field?
My first job out of college was working with formerly incarcerated individuals with serious mental illnesses who were receiving supportive housing through Community Access. People with mental illness have been, and still are still, characterized as very dangerous and untreatable. Although I knew that this was not true, this work demonstrated to me, in a very tangible way, the role that supportive services could play in preventing recidivism. From there I went on to do HIV/STD prevention with sex-working youth who were cycling in and out of the juvenile justice system. Afterwards, I decided to go to Law School and I became a Public Defender, and then I came here to the Justice Center.
My advice to young women is to think about the things that you love to do in your spare time—ask yourself: what are your interests, what do you enjoy reading about, what types of things do you enjoy doing. The things I always use to read about in my free time in high school and college were always criminal justice related. I was curious about the life circumstances and choices that led people to incarceration, and how our prison system functioned. Sometimes we are taught to separate our personal lives and our work lives, and it didn't dawn on me until later in life that the things that I genuinely enjoy doing outside of my work life are the things that I should dedicate myself to professionally. Trust your instincts-if you have the choice, do what you are passionate about, things that represent who you are, not who you think you should be. In law school, I met a whole lot of people who knew what they really wanted to do, but went to law school because they thought it was the right “next step.” I, myself, knew that public defense work wasn’t for me—I am not a fighter by nature, I don’t love getting up in front of crowds and arguing, and I’m not comfortable with the unpredictability with trial work. Ultimately, I loved the principles behind criminal defense work, I loved the idea of litigation but when it came to it I didn't enjoy the day to day of it.
What role have women mentors played in your educational and professional development?
I had a Women's History teacher in 8th grade, and she was in her 60's. Her dream had been to go to law school, but at that time women couldn't go to law school, so instead she became a history teacher and taught about legal issues relating to women. She was such a creative inspirational woman and she would always tell young women that we were free to make choices in our lives, in a way that she wasn't and to take that choice very seriously. I kept in touch with her until recently when she passed away. And of course, my mom is an unbelievably compassionate, strong, and thoughtful woman who has really supported me in every decision I’ve made and let me make my mistakes, but was always there when I fell.
In what ways do you exercise leadership in your current position at HCJC and in your community?
These last two years have been my first experience in a real position of professional leadership, and what has been most interesting to me has been finding out how to be a "boss" and to remain faithful to who I am as a person. And so as a "boss" I look at myself more as a mentor than an authority figure. I understand that people do their best, in any context, when they are supported, and feel like they can make mistakes. I try my best to be that kind of supervisor. I am also a strong believer in accountability and transparency. I try to hold my staff accountable, but in a respectful, fair, and kind way. I’ve discovered that you can be supportive and hold people accountable at the same time, which is somewhat of a revelation! So I feel like I exercise leadership in modeling how a woman can be in a position of power, but remain faithful to who she is.
What has been the most challenging experience you've had as a woman in the justice field?
As a woman working in the justice field, you have to be prepared to deal with two types of sexism—unwanted sexual advances and comments, by both your clients and your professional colleagues (which is always much worse!) and the assumption that you are less competent than your male counterparts. Obviously, women battle regularly as professionals, but I was especially surprised by the level of sexism that existed in law school.
What challenges do you think persist for women in this field today?
I frequently find myself in groups of men and become very conscious that I am the only female there, and have to consciously refuse to allow that to inhibit my self expression. For whatever reasons, I find that generally men still dominate conversations, and that we women sometimes have to insist on being heard, which can’t happen unless we speak! I also find it challenging to hear sexism among your male counterparts who see themselves as very progressive, and for the most part are, but still display sexist tendencies. I think it’s my obligation to challenge myself to address it in a way that it can be heard.
What aspect of your career are you most proud of?
I am proud of finding a career that meshes with all of my values. For me, it’s not about what I've necessarily achieved in terms of position, but that I come to work and go home everyday feeling like I did something that matters and that I did something that is faithful to who I am as a person.
What do you hope to achieve professionally in the future?
I think I'm most interested in learning about different aspects of the criminal justice field. I've been really focused on reentry and I love this work, but at some time I would love to eventually get to explore some other projects. Two projects at CCI that particularly interest me are court room communication, anti-violence work, and tribal work. I'm more excited about the richness of experiences that I can have in the criminal justice field and hopefully at the Center for Court Innovation.
Apr 25, 2013