Senior Spotlight: Christina Yerry ’20 Inspires All Those Around Her to Reach their Full Potential

Senior Spotlight: Christina Yerry ’20 Inspires All Those Around Her to Reach their Full Potential

Senior Spotlight: Christina Yerry ’20 Inspires All Those Around Her to Reach their Full Potential

Resilient, inspiring, and determined are just some of the adjectives that can be used to describe Christina Yerry ’20, a non-traditional college student, whose incredible journey of overcoming addiction and following her dreams led her to earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Forensic Psychology. “I am thankful for all the opportunities John Jay College has offered me. It’s helped me discover the person I am today and the person I want to be tomorrow,” says Yerry who returned to college following a 26-year hiatus. And, as someone who has struggled in life and came out stronger on the other side, she’s hoping to help others on their journey through recovery and successful transition from the criminal justice system. “Appreciation and paying it forward is a quality that was instilled in me by my mother and father. My way of giving back is by helping and guiding people that need help finding their way through their addictions, their frustrations, and their struggles.”   

“My way of giving back is by helping and guiding people that need help finding their way through their addictions, their frustrations, and their struggles.” —Christina Yerry

Growing Pains
Growing up in a small town in Connecticut, Yerry involved herself in sports, playing musical instruments, being a student leader, and an active member in school clubs, but her picture-perfect life wasn’t all it seemed to be. “My internal struggles prevented me from succeeding in the traditional sense,” she explains. “By the time I reached college, I was struggling to find my way and spiraled downward through my use of drugs and alcohol. I dropped out and continued to drink and use. In August of 1993, I entered an inpatient treatment facility at the age of 22.” With sobriety and raising her daughter taking top priority, Yerry put the idea of returning to college on hold. “I always regretted not finishing my degree, it’s a goal that deep down, I never truly abandoned,” she says.

“I needed a college that could fulfil my desire to work with criminal justice-involved individuals struggling with addiction as well as provide me with the knowledge to create and advance policy change in the criminal justice system. John Jay College was the only answer.” —Christina Yerry

Finding John Jay
With the desire to return back to the classroom deep within her, Yerry began researching colleges in 2017. “I needed a college that could fulfil my desire to work with criminal justice-involved individuals struggling with addiction as well as provide me with the knowledge to create and advance policy change in the criminal justice system,” says Yerry. “John Jay College was the only answer.” Arriving at the College, Yerry felt a number of emotions from excitement to feeling a bit lost. “My first semester, I felt out of place and lost in a sea of young adults that were the same age as my daughter,” she says. Pointing to how the education system had changed in 26 years, Yerry noted the technological differences that at first seemed daunting. “The last time I attended college the internet didn’t exist. And, for me, a blackboard was something you wrote on with chalk, not a software program.” While the tools and classroom technology were very different from what she was used to, Yerry adapted quickly earning a 4.0 GPA, being inducted into the Psi Chi Honor Society, and getting accepted into the BA/MA Forensic Psychology program. “I set a goal to graduate before I turned 50,” she says, highlighting her determination. “I took classes during the summer and winter breaks; I had an eight-hour surgery during midterms; and in May, I graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Forensic Psychology, a minor in Addiction Studies, and an advance certificate in Victimology. I turn 50 this November, I met the goal I set with a lot of determination, a mountain of support from my family, and an abundance of coffee.”

Guiding Others
As someone who felt the impact of addiction—she will be 27 years sober this August—Yerry has made it her personal mission to help others. She’s currently sponsoring over 200 plus women in Alcoholics Anonymous, helping them through their most challenging moments. “The beauty of sponsoring others is that it enables you to appreciate the journey and pay it forward. It also reminds me of my early struggles in recovery and allows me to recognize how far I’ve come and how quickly one can slip away with one wrong choice,” explains Yerry. “I enjoy watching the women I sponsor reach their milestones and beam with pride. It’s that self-pride and feeling that will help them get to the next step in recovery.” Yerry also acknowledges that recovery has no finish line or end date, instead it’s an ongoing process that happens daily. “Recovery is a lifetime commitment. It’s a lifelong process that requires self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-discipline on a daily basis,” she says. “If you meet the most challenging moments in life with perseverance instead of resistance, the potential for the most rewarding outcome becomes possible.”

“If you meet the most challenging moments in life with perseverance instead of resistance, the potential for the most rewarding outcome becomes possible.” —Christina Yerry

Creating Change
Being impacted by the criminal justice system was life changing for Yerry who wants to see the system become a rehabilitative one. “The most influential part of my experience was the realization of just how badly the entire system needs serious repair,” she says. “I realized through experience how unjust our current criminal justice system is and I am committed to doing everything I can to resolve the major issues and brokenness in the system.” Crediting her education from John Jay, Yerry says she now has a clearer idea of how to recognize underlying issues within the system and help create change. “Studying individual behaviors, environmental factors, psychological insight, and sociological variables at John Jay allowed me to understand the changes that are desperately needed in the criminal justice system. The entire system needs to be overhauled in order for it to provide effective ways to address individual change and reduce recidivism.”

Uplifting Others
Through her externship work at STRIVE, Yerry is helping people transition out of the criminal justice system back into society. Meeting each individual where he or she is and treating them with respect has enabled her to establish trust with clients. “Working at STRIVE has shown me the importance of human connection. I want to help others find success and develop positive behavioral strategies and attitudes to cope with indifference and struggle,” she says, noting the importance of being understanding of someone’s struggle and their story. “While a large portion of my caseload involves men that have served lengthy sentences for violent offenses, I am reminded that most of them entered the criminal justice system as boys without proper guidance and support,” explains Yerry. “I can’t change their past history and circumstance, but I can offer them my support, encouragement, and guidance toward a better life.”

“Obstacles are meant to strengthen not impede. Be strong, keep moving forward, and stay true to yourself. It’s never too late to make your dreams come true.” —Christina Yerry

Setting Future Goals
Following Graduation, Yerry continues working at STRIVE. I need to see where this chapter takes me because the work is important and allows me to use the knowledge I gained at John Jay, every single day,” she says. After that, Yerry has her sights set on implementing change in the criminal justice system. “It’s far too important an endeavor and a pursuit I am not willing to put aside,” she says. “In the next few years, I hope to be celebrating policy changes with my colleagues and looking for new ways to improve upon them.” As someone who has faced incredible obstacles in life, Yerry knows the only way to the other side of any challenge is pushing through. “Personal success is a never-ending process and the most rewarding of any success,” says Yerry, offering the John Jay community some words of wisdom. “Obstacles are meant to strengthen not impede. Be strong, keep moving forward, and stay true to yourself. It’s never too late to make your dreams come true.”