Apr 25, 2013

Profiles in Leadership at the Harlem Community Justice Center: Alison Dockery-Ervin

Alison Dockery-Ervin received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and her Masters of Arts in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of the City of New York and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. She was interviewed as part of a series focused on women leaders working at the Harlem Community Justice Center (HCJC), a project of the Center for Court Innovation. She was interviewed by Ana Billingsley, an Intern from the Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York. 

What do you do at the Harlem Community Justice Center?

Currently I am a life coach for criminally justice involved youth. We have a training program so that they can get some work experience and then they go on to internship and hopefully at the end of a six month period they will have a job at the end.

What was your pathway to justice work and what advice do you have for young women entering this field?

I went to John Jay College of Criminal Justice and got my masters in forensic psychology. I had to do an internship and I ended up finding an internship that was a study on clients that were criminally justice involved and drug abused, so I got into the substance abuse field, and all those people were incarcerated. From there I came to the Justice Center, where I was working from parolees and their reentry and now I'm working with youth who are also criminally justice involved.

Advice that I would give to other women would be definitely to stay motivated and to try to learn as much as you can. It is kind of hard to get into the field in the beginning, especially if you're coming from a different background, but once you're in as long as you keep on learning you'll do pretty well.

What role have women mentors played in your educational and professional development?

The first job I had, my supervisor was a female. She was, for lack of a better word, aggressive, and she so she always made sure she got everything she needed, that everything was organized. She paid attention to everything, if she didn't know something she always tried to figure out what the answer was. So what she taught me was that if you don't know something, don't feel bad trying to find out what it means, and if you don't know it, it would be better to admit it than to pretend like you know it. Always increase your knowledge, pay attention to other people, because you never know when that might come back to help you in the future.

In what ways do you exercise leadership in your current position at HCJC and in your community?

I feel that exercising leadership for me is helping other people become leaders. If I can teach one other person how to do something or how to be better, then that person can spread it along. You can't change the world by yourself, the more people that you influence or the more people you inform then the wider you can cast your net. So when it comes to leadership, don't think you have to do everything by yourself, you can always have other people help you.

What has been the most challenging experience you've had as a woman in the justice field?
The most challenging experience is having people underestimate your knowledge, 1) because I am a woman and 2) because of my age or where I come from. They underestimate me automatically just by looking at me so it takes a little bit more energy to prove myself, to let them know that I do have the knowledge, I do have the experience and I do know what I'm doing.

What challenges do you think persist for women in this field today?

It is a challenge for women to get to where they are because we have to work harder.  Some people think this is a male field because it is mostly males that are incarcerated and that the clients might relate better to a man than they relate to a woman. But after you show individuals your knowledge, then they understand that they can relate to you that you can help them. They think you might not understand, so that will always be a challenge.

What aspect of your career are you most proud of?

That's a hard question. I'm proud that I'm still in this field because I really enjoy it even though it has been challenging. I’m also proud that I I feel that I can continually learn.  It is not really what I've done but what I can do and what I'm learning from the field. So I think I'm most proud of that, that I keep learning more and accumulating more that I can use in everyday life.

What do you hope to achieve professionally in the future?

I want to stay in the criminal justice field and I am currently trying to get my PhD. I'm in school for that so if I can be a doctor in this field that would be great-no it’s not going to be great, it will be great because it is what I'm going to do! I want to be a doctor and help the people that I'm helping now in this field but with a higher degree.