The National Jurist - Spring 2017 - 18
tarra simmons, Class of 2017
Seattle University School of Law
Tarra Simmons' parents divorced when
she was a year old. They were poor.
Neither had a high school diploma. And
they liked their dope.
Suffice to say, Simmons' early life was
chaotic. Raised in Olympia, Wash., she
ran away at age 11. Later, she moved
in with her dad, who had moved to
Stockton, Calif. He was a mess, she said,
so she ran away again at 13. A year later,
she was pregnant. That actually turned
out to be blessing - for a while, anyway.
"I didn't want my son to be exposed
to what I had been," she said. So, she
went back to school and got a degree in
nursing. Things were good, for a time,
- until her dad died, which threw her
into despair and drugs. Later, she was
arrested for selling drugs and sentenced to
30 months. She got out in 20.
One thing that helped save her?
Lawyers and law students. Students
from the Incarcerated Mothers Advocacy
Project at Seattle University School of
Law visited her in prison. They helped
her retain custody of her children, maintain her nursing license and protect her
house from foreclosure - no small feats.
However, when she got out of prison, the only work she could find was at
Burger King. Being an ex-con kept derailing her.
Her legal advocates suggested she consider law school. She showed a passion for
it. Plus, she figured that if she couldn't
find a job, she could start her own firm.
Her prison record would not hold her
back from that.
Throughout her time in law school,
she's been an advocate for people facing similar problems. She speaks publicly
about what she's been through. One of
the most difficult challenges was being
saddled with Legal Financial Obligations
(LFOs), which are imposed on prisoners by the state of Washington and must
be paid back with interest. After hearing
her speak about how daunting that was, a
judge helped pay off her LFOs.
In law school, she co-founded an
advocacy group called Civil Survival to
help former prisoners re-enter society.
In 2016, she was awarded a prestigious
Skadden Fellowship, which she is using to
help establish a program to assist formerly
Today, she's 39, has two sons - ages
23 and 13 - and a husband who's also
in recovery. She credits the many people
who came to her rescue during the years
- from lawyers to social workers - for
"I've been blessed," she said. "It's definitely taken a village to raise me."
Simmons needs approval from the
Washington State Bar Association to take
the exam. Her criminal record may be a
factor, since candidates must undergo a
review of fitness and character. Her law
school is supporting her in that regard.
n Katie Steefel, University of Denver
Sturm College of Law
n Javier Garcia, The University of
New Mexico School of Law
n Ahmed Lavalais, University of
California, Berkeley, School of Law
n Amanda Gomm, Lewis & Clark Law
Maria ivañez, Class of 2016
South Texas College of Law Houston
When young people reach their teens,
they're normally consumed by issues
The NaTioNal JurisT
surrounding hairstyle choices, designer
clothes and the opposite sex.
Maria Ivañez had a different concern:
Could she remain in this country?
Her parents were from Chile and emigrated to Houston when she was 6. They
were all undocumented. When she was
in her teens, she began to understand the
ramifications of that.
"It was very nerve-racking," she said.
For one thing, she had problems
finding a job. So, she became her own
employer. And she chose an interesting
field. She worked as a clown, entertaining
at birthday parties.
"It got me through college," she said.
She also began investigating how she
could become a citizen and filed papers to
become one. She later helped her parents
and her older brother become citizens.
When she went to law school, she became
deeply involved in clinical work to help
other undocumented individuals in their
"My desire to pursue a legal career in
corporate immigration law and pro bono
immigration work was strengthened by