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Ex-Prisoner Elected Washington State Representative

Tarra Simmons, a 2017 graduate of Seattle University School of Law, on Tuesday was elected as a state representative in Washington’s 23rd District, becoming the first formerly incarcerated person to win office in the state, reports Law.com.

Her unlikely journey into politics began with a 20-month stint in prison for drug offenses after the former nurse fell into addiction. Next came law school, a prestigious Skadden fellowship, and a year-long battle to sit for the bar exam and be admitted to practice. Her fight attracted attention within the legal profession and beyond.

Simmons will represent a district across Puget Sound from Seattle. She ran on a platform that included criminal justice reform, addressing climate change, and more access to health care.

“Really grateful for the history we made tonight, and the HOPE and #PolicyChange we will pass to ensure others have opportunity as well,” Simmons Tweeted after clinching the seat by a nearly 10 percent margin.

Since her time in law school, Simmons has been open about her criminal record and the challenges she has faced joining the legal profession. Her path to law school began after her release from prison, when she had trouble finding a nursing job due to her criminal record. Lawyers helped her handle post-conviction matters and planted the seed that she could join their ranks. The Washington State Bar Association in 2017 denied Simmons’ bid to sit for the bar exam based on its character and fitness review.

Simmons successfully challenged that decision with the help of Georgetown University law Prof. Shon Hopwood, who spent a decade in prison for armed robbery before becoming a successful jailhouse lawyer, then an actual lawyer. The Washington State Supreme Court sided with Simmons, citing her six years of sobriety and exemplary conduct as evidence she posed little risk of relapse.