Nine people in formal wear standing in hallway with marble floors and walls

Our Story

The Civil Survival Project organizes people who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system to build connections, gain knowledge and increase political participation. As an organization focused on criminal justice reform in Washington State led by formerly incarcerated individuals, we offer a unique perspective. We believe that people closest to the problem are closest to the solution. By investing in the justice-involved community of Washington State, we build coalitions for systemic reform in the legislature and beyond.

Our Work in 2020

Legislation and Coalitions

Civil Survival’s main legislative priority this year was the Clean Slate Act. This bill would put the legal system to work on behalf of those formerly incarcerated. The proposed law would automatically clear qualifying criminal records for people who remain crime-free for a set period. Everyone who qualifies gets a clean slate—regardless of whether they can afford a lawyer and expensive court fees and without having to navigate a complex court process.

Both the House and Senate passed this bill. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and the implied associated costs, the governor vetoed the bill.

In partnership with the Washington Voting Rights Restoration Coalition, we worked to pass Senate Bill 6228 with Senator Kuderer and Representative Dolan. This bill will allow people that are no longer under 24hr physical incarceration by DOC to vote. The coalition faced fierce opposition, and the bill did not pass.

Taking Control of the Narrative

This opposition provided an opportunity for Civil Survival, and the coalition to strategize and take control of the narrative. We have spent time creating relationships with and educating people in positions of power who would not typically support a bill like this one. Our goal is that this bill will pass in 2021, leaving nobody in our formerly incarcerated community without the right to vote.

In addition to garnering support from unlikely sources, we feel grateful that Representative Dolan was gracious enough to give the prime sponsorship of the bill to Representative-Elect Tarra Simmons. This is important to us as our goal at Civil Survival is always to have the most impacted people at the center of the work.

Large group of smiling people with arms around ech other in the front row. Many people are wearing red Civil Survival t-shirts

New Legislative Committee

In 2020, Civil Survival formed a Legislative Committee. This committee met once per week and was made up of Fellows from the 2019 fellowship program. They transitioned from the Fellowship into the Legislative Committee to build legislative skills around changing laws and learned more about active bills. Throughout the year, Civil Survival organized directly impacted people to testify in legislative committees on several bills relating to criminal justice reform. We will continue with this program in 2021, although the Washington State Legislature will meet remotely.


This year Civil Survival conducted a workshop on the Power of Collective Voices. Civil Survival created a visual presentation that provided education around the process of how a bill becomes a law, know your rights, and removing barriers to
successful reentry. This workshop also included training and practice on how to tell your story. Our community was able to share their stories with elected officials who participated in our workshop.

Large group of people in classroom, sitting in rows at long tables, all paying close attention to front of room


Civil Survival Presents!

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, we had to adapt to the circumstances and change the way we do many things. We took this as an opportunity to highlight some of our favorite organizers and community partners’ work, and reach a broader audience. We launched Civil Survival Presents Webinars. Hosting these webinars also allowed us to learn and teach new skills to our Game Changer

Civil Survival hosted two online webinars this year. This first was called “Unsung Heroes.” This webinar aimed to lift voices that we feel are doing great things for the community.

Large group of people sitting in rows of chairs, many wearing red Civil Survival t-shirts

Organizing & Advocacy

This year Civil Survival participated in three advocacy days. We participated in the MLK Day State-Wide Poverty Action Advocacy Day with the Poverty Action Network. We participated in the Washington Recovery Coalition advocacy day. In addition, Civil Survival Project completed our first advocacy day in Olympia. Fifty directly impacted people were in attendance, including many impacted children, Representative Jesse Johnson and Senator Joe Nguyen. Senator Nguyen took the impacted children on a tour of the State Capitol during our Advocacy day.

Reentry Legal Aid

Throughout 2020 Civil Survival developed our Reentry Legal Aid Program. This program aims to serve our community on the many reentry barriers associated with a criminal record such as housing, employment, professional licenses, and court fines and fees. RLAP also provides continued education to volunteer attorneys around reentry issues and educational seminars to impacted community members. With this program, we have also offered Civil Legal aid to impacted individuals and have created 12 one-page self-help guides for our clients.

Screenshot of 6 people participating in Zoom call

National Expungement Week

In 2020, Civil Survival held our second National Expungement Week event. Civil Survival held this five-day event online due to COVID-19. This event featured national speakers such as Torie Marshall, Visionary & Founder of N.E.W.; Zaki Smith, Policy Entrepreneur Next 100; and State Representative Drew Hansen. During this five day event, participants learned about their legal rights related to reentry and how to get help to navigate the barriers.

Day five of this event was a presentation on how marijuana criminalization continues to hurt and marginalize people. Our marijuana criminalization presentation was presented by Senator Joe Nguyen, Christopher Poulos from the Washington Reentry Council, and a directly impacted person.

All five days of this event are available to stream on our website and our YouTube Channel.

Game Changers

Game Changer Groups

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, we had to move our Game Changer Groups to the Zoom Platform. All four counties are currently meeting online. Attendance remains high at anywhere from eight to twenty directly impacted people participating in each meeting. We currently hold four meetings a month, and cover the geographical areas of King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Thurston counties. However, meeting virtually has helped us increase our reach.

Game Changer Leaders

Notable Accomplishments

Civil Survival educates and promotes social justice reform on the local and nationwide scene. These opportunities expand our voice and legislative agenda to a broad network of impacted individuals and their communities.

Conferences & Presentations

  • Co-chairs on Washington Voting Rights Restoration Coalition
  • School discipline reform stakeholder group
  • Participate in the Housing Justice Coalition
  • Cory Walster participated in the Hemp Fest Justice Panel
  • Presented for Bremerton Lions Club
  • Speaker at the Prison Voice Rally, which was presented by King 5 News
  • Tarra Simmons and our Game Changer Andre Henderson were featured in an A&E special that shared Tarra’s story.
  • Keynoted for the Washington State Association of Head Start on ending Mass Incarceration
  • Speaker at the Washington Recovery Alliance Summit
  • Commencement speaker at Barker Creek Graduation Ceremony
  • Tabled at the Bainbridge Island Black History Month Expo
  • Health care surveys and share outs

Staff Development

Over the course of this year, we had to become creative in finding new ways to continue to serve the community. This required skill building and increased online presence. Our staff spent time developing many skills to accomplish our work, including website and graphic design and training with others on how to organize an online community.

This year Civil Survival Project also made four new hires to add capacity to our staff. We hired two attorneys to assist with our legal aid programs. We also hired an Executive Assistant to help with the capacity of our Program Director.

Tarra Simmons, our co-founder, and Director was elected to the Washington State Legislature. She will represent the 23rd district and is excited about the opportunity to make a more significant impact while serving the community in this role. Because of Tarra’s election, she will need to reduce her responsibilities for Civil Survival. We are delighted to share that Kelly Olson, a long-time Game Changer leader, has been hired as our new Policy Manager. Kelly will be leading our legislative work while Tarra is serving in office.

Coming in 2021

In March, we had to shift our work due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. All of our in-person events were canceled to allow us to move as much as possible online and focus on organizational growth.

We hope that in 2021 we are able to bring back our in-person events. These events include our Advocacy Workshops, Lobby Days, Leadership Fellowship, and LFO Reconsideration Days. In the meantime, we are holding these and other events virtually. We will continue to develop our capacity to serve the legal needs of individual clients through our Reentry Legal Aid Project.

Self-style image of 4 smiling women

We Need Your Support!

The work of Civil Survival would not be possible without your support. As we grow in capacity, build coalitions and advocate for systemic reform in the legislature, your help is essential. Please support Civil Survival with a generous gift.