Civil Survival Executive Director Tarra Simmons recently testified at a Congressional Briefing about the importance of Civil Legal Aid in removing barriers to opportunity for justice-involved individuals.
Ms. Simmons described how her abusive upbringing led to depression and drug abuse, which ultimately resulted in a 20-month prison sentence. While in prison Ms. Simmons was struggling with thousands of dollars of court-imposed fines as well as personal debt that went to collections due to non-payment. Her husband filed for divorce and she had no way of representing herself. Ms. Simmons felt helpless until she saw a brochure for a Northwest Justice legal clinic inside the prison. She attended along with several other women who were able to discuss their issues and get help from the legal aid volunteers. She described feeling like she was being heard and valued as a person, which was as important as the legal aid itself. It was then that Ms. Simmons decided to go to law school to become an advocate for other justice-involved individuals.
Ms. Simmons also described her success in law school and her struggle to overcome the State Bar Association’s recommendation against her taking the bar exam. Civil legal aid was a critical part of her ability to appeal the decision to the Washington Supreme Court. Ms. Simmons was represented, pro bono, by a formerly incarcerated attorney. The Court ruled unanimously in her favor and she was allowed to take the bar exam, which she recently passed.