Coreen left home when she was 13. She says her uncle had been sexually abusing her, but her mom wouldn’t believe her. She had to get away, but found that life on her own was a struggle.
“When you live on the streets, you have to do what you can to survive,” she says. That included using drugs, as well as stealing clothes, food and cars.
Soon after she turned 18, Coreen was convicted of stealing a gun. She says she planned to sell the weapon to help get a roof over her head.
Coreen served time for the theft, as well as a series of other nonviolent offenses. She also began accumulating debt. Every time Coreen was charged with a crime and assigned a public defender, she was charged court fees.
After more than a decade of struggling with addiction, and going in and out of incarceration, Coreen changed her life. She was pregnant with a son, and didn’t want to give him up after having two other children taken away.
Coreen connected with YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish’s Passage Point, a supportive residential community that helps parents facing homelessness after incarceration reunite with their children.
It took a lot of hard work and proving herself, but Coreen was granted custody of her son, now 2 years old. She’s a proud and loving mom, but the court-imposed debt that Coreen accrued has made it hard for her to give her son the life she wants for him. Her job as an assistant manager of a pizza restaurant provides an income, but Coreen’s legal financial obligations (LFOs) have meant making hard choices.
“I’ve really struggled — do I pay my LFOs, or do I buy diapers?” she says.
Even though Coreen has paid her LFOs consistently, a high interest rate makes it hard to get ahead. For example, Grays Harbor County imposed a $1,400 fee for one of her felony charges. She’s been making monthly payments on that LFO, but, because of interest, she owes $1,520 on it today. All together, Coreen owes more than $10,000 on various LFOs, and the debt is growing because of interest.
“The amount I owe on these just goes up every month. I feel like I’m going to have these debts for the rest of my life,” she says.
Coreen, along with Firesteel, advocates to reduce non-restitution LFO debt and reform the system. She doesn’t want her son to suffer because of mistakes she made in the past.
“Everybody deserves a chance in life. What your parents did shouldn’t define your future,” she says.
HB 1783 did not pass the cutoff. There is a possibility that it will be re-introduced in the special session expected to begin on April 24. Stay tuned!