A woman is believed to have become the first convicted felon elected to the Washington State legislature, the Washington Post reported.
Tarra Simmons, 42, is a Democrat who will represent the 23rd District in Kitsap County, according to the Washington Post. She won her race with nearly 65% of the vote.
“We just made #herstory in WA State!” Simmons tweeted November 4 after her victory. “Beyond grateful to my team, volunteers and donors who made the impossible happen. From the Big House to the State House…We Do Recover! #LetMyPeopleRun #EndMassIncarceration”
We just made #herstory in WA State! Beyond grateful to my team, volunteers and donors who made the impossible happen. From the Big House to the State House…We Do Recover! #LetMyPeopleRun #EndMassIncarceration pic.twitter.com/IGcqFVRCXW
— Tarra Simmons (@TarraSimmons5) November 4, 2020
During her childhood, Simmons “had a lot of trauma and violence in my home” and “was around drugs and alcohol all the time,” she told the Post. She dropped out of school when she was 13 and became pregnant at 14. But Simmons was able to overcome her circumstances and become the first person in her family to graduate high school, even though she had her baby at 15. (RELATED: FLASHBACK: Joe Biden Criticized George H.W. Bush For Not Putting Enough ‘Violent Thugs’ In Prison)
Simmons graduated from Pacific Lutheran University at 21 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and worked as a nurse for 11 years.
“I had a long clean period, but then in my early 30s, I started taking drugs to cope with depression,” Simmons told the Washington Post. “I started with pain pills, then moved on to methamphetamine. And the alcohol abuse that started in my teens got progressively worse.”
Simmons spent 30 months in prison for theft and drug convictions before being released in 2013, the Washington Post reported. Simmons worked as a nurse before being incarcerated, and after her release, she was unable to continue practicing. Burger King was the only place that the mother of three could find a job.
“I couldn’t get hired as a nurse again, and Burger King was the only place that would give me a job,” Simmons told the Washington Post. “My wages were being garnished to pay my court fines, and I was also trying to reunify and catch up with my kids.”
“It was a really hard time — the barriers to succeed seemed overwhelming,” she added.
Simmons decided to fight to help people who had been released from prison, leading her to apply to the Seattle University School of Law, according to the Post. She graduated in 2017 with honors, but the Washington State Bar refused to admit her due to her past conviction. Eventually, Simmons won a State Supreme court battle over the issue, which ruled in her favor in a unanimous same-day decision.
As an elected official, Simmons hopes to focus on increasing access to mental health services and reducing the incarceration rate in Washington, the Post reported.
“Instead of expelling kids who come to school with alcohol and get into fights, let’s figure out what’s going on with their families and invest in ‘wraparound’ services and partnerships to prevent more incarcerations later in life,” she told the newspaper.
“I hope this victory shows others that our worst mistakes do not define us,” Simmons told the Daily Caller. “We can recover from some of life’s most difficult challenges.”
“It takes a lot of hard work, but it also takes policy change to remove barriers,” she added. “As a State Representative I hope to remove some of those barriers and make the path less arduous for the individuals in need of another chance.”
Simmons also supports funding early childhood education, increased funding for mental health treatment and substance use disorder treatment, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and giving formerly incarcerated people a voice.
Simmons is the co-founder of the Civil Survival Project, which helps formerly incarcerated people reintegrate into their communities, her website states. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee appointed her to the Washington State Reentry Council, where she was elected co-chair, and the Public Defense Advisory Board.