Artist Profile - Deborah Espinosa

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Deborah Espinosa

Deborah Espinosa Profile Photo
2019 Grants for Artist Projects
King County



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Keshena, Giclee Print 20"x30", 2016 Keshena, of Tacoma, Washington, holds a photograph of her son, which she kept with her during her 4.5 year-prison term to remind her of what is at stake. In addition to serving prison time, Keshena owes the State of Washington about $50,000 in court-imposed legal financial obligations. Says Keshena, “My debt – not only is it affecting me financially, mentally, emotionally, . . . it affects my boys . . . . They suffer, too. For everything I have done in the past, they suffer for now. My past is haunting me."

Michael, Giclee Print 20"x30", 2016 “When I took my guilty plea, I didn’t think that I was going to be doing a life sentence,” says Michael, a Native American disabled veteran who lives solely on his VA pension of $1,070 per month. In addition to his five-year sentence for a possession and delivery of methamphetamines, Michael was sentenced to $11,000 in LFOs. For the past five years, he has paid $75 per month, which the State has applied only to the interest on his fines. This means he is slipping backwards. As of June 2016, Michael’s debt had grown to $17,000, $7,000 more than the day he was sentenced.

Carmen, Giclee Print, 30"x20", 2016 Carmen, of Spokane, Washington, sits with her daughter, Jasmine, and granddaughter, Aria, at a local park. Carmen grew up in an abusive home, then foster care, and on the street. At 17, Carmen aged out of foster care, pregnant and addicted to heroin. After a series of convictions to feed her habit, Carmen was on the verge of losing her children when she turned herself in. “[I didn’t] want my kids to go through life thinking I didn’t fight for them.” Clean 16 years, she has proudly watched her children raise their own children outside the child welfare system. But Carmen is still living beneath the court debt. She works 7 days per week, earning $28,000 per year. She still owes the State of Washington $8,000, down from $40,000, sometimes forgoing rent to pay those bills.

Deborah Espinosa is artist and attorney living in Seattle, Washington. She combines her legal and multimedia storytelling skills to advocate for the rights of the poor and marginalized, both at home and in Africa. She also works to strengthen those rights, providing legal technical assistance to state and national governments in the global south. She believes that multimedia storytelling is one of the most powerful advocacy tools for reform of unjust law and policy. Her work has been exhibited in multiple cities in Washington State as well as in San Francisco, Brooklyn, and in Winnipeg at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. In support of “Living with Conviction,” she has received a 2017 smArt ventures grant from the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, a 2018 4Culture Artist Grant, a 2018 Washington Humanities Stories Grant, and a 2019 Snap Grant from the Washington State Arts Commission. She was recently chosen for the inaugural cohort of We, Women artists, an award which recognizes women, transgender, and non-binary photographers whose projects are rooted in community engagement and collaboration. Deborah is originally from southern California, born to a Mexican father and Norwegian mother. She is a graduate of the Artist Trust EDGE Program for Visual Artists and holds a Certificate in Photography from the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, a JD from the University of Washington School of Law, a MA from the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, and a BA in History from University of California at Berkeley.

Deborah received 2019 GAP Award funding for “Living with Conviction: Sentenced to Debt for Life in Washington State,” which confronts, in partnership with formerly incarcerated individuals, how Washington has been sentencing people to not just prison, but to a lifetime of debt. The project leverages multimedia storytelling and civic engagement to raise awareness about, and advocate for an end to, onerous court-imposed costs, fees, fines, and restitution, aka “legal financial obligations (LFOs),” which have been accruing interest at a rate of 12 percent. “Living with Conviction” goes beyond the polarizing headlines and statistics of mass incarceration to share stories of our common humanity; stories of families torn apart by the criminal justice system; stories of addiction, mental illness, abuse, and trauma, but also of recovery, resilience, healing, and love. This generous award will allow her to deepen her engagement with and share more LFO stories of formerly incarcerated Latinx in Washington State.



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