On Wednesday, June 6, several Civil Survival members participated in a panel discussion about Legal Financial Obligations for Living With Conviction, a project created by documentary photographer and attorney, Deborah Espinosa of Same Sky Photography. Living with Conviction: Sentenced to Debt for Life in Washington State is an education and advocacy project on the impacts of court-imposed legal financial obligations (LFOs) on formerly incarcerated individuals and their families in Washington State.

The Washington State Minority & Justice Commission invited Living with Conviction to participate at their symposium, entitled Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs): Beyond Defining the Problem; Advancing Solutions. Held at Seattle University, the Living with Conviction panelists were led in their discussion about LFOs by Civil Survival Executive Director Tarra Simmons.

Program participant and Civil Survival member Michael Shoemaker spoke to the justices about the impact of LFO’s on his life. Mr. Shoemaker is a veteran with a disability living on a fixed pension. For much of his life he suffered from addiction and supplemented his income with drug sales, which led to a conviction. He was able to achieve recovery in prison and has since dedicated his life to serving his community. He explained that after serving 60 months in prison, his LFO’s, together with the 12% annual interest, amounted to an insurmountable debt. Through help from Tarra Simmons, he was able to get his LFO’s reduced by $22,000. Without her help he would have had no idea how to go about getting the fines reduced. He explained that others in his position are not as lucky. Mr. Shoemaker stressed the need for reform so that justice-involved individuals do not end up serving a life sentence of debt.

Dr. Anna Bosch, a former King County Prosecuting Attorney and current research fellow at the University of Washington School of Law spoke about recent developments with the Living With Conviction project. Ms. Espinoza recently formed a partnership with the UW School of Law to work on advancing solutions to LFO debt through training and seminars. Law students are paired with justice-involved individuals in an effort to give them the tools to access information about LFO’s as well as information about the recent reforms in Washington State.

Other speakers highlighted the need for LFO and justice reform, while advancing strategies to prevent the ongoing hardships to families, individuals and communities created by insurmountable debt.

Watch the full Symposium.