Logo’s compelling new documentary about incarcerated women.

“If there was something someone could have said or done that would have changed the path that led you here, what would it have been?” 

While most people have something in their life that they regret or might have done differently, for the inmates of the Washington Corrections Center for Women, this question carries a lot of weight. The IF Project, a documentary premiering on Logo on Wednesday, September 14 at 8pm ET/PT, follows local Seattle police officer Kim Bogucki after she posed the “IF” question to female inmates in 2008 and received a stack of raw and poignant essays that she and repeat offender Renata Abramson hope can help shed light on the social issues that lead to incarceration, improve policing practices, and increase support for the successful transition to post-prison life. 

Curve asked some tough questions to the director Kathlyn Horan and to Det. Bogucki about the project.

Why should queer women watch this documentary?

Kathlyn: Kim and myself are both out and as an out female filmmaker, Logo is a natural fit. Also, so many of the women who we worked with and featured in the film are gay or queer identified. The LGBT community has a higher than average contact with law enforcement. This means prison reform is also an LGBT issue. Prisons are filled with LGBT people who are struggling and it’s important to engage these communities on the outside and humanize the issues. 

Is the IF Project the first of its kind?

Kathlyn: As prisons go, the Washington Correction Center for Women is on the more progressive side of things. While there weren’t any projects like The IF Project in place before, the institution works to support many volunteer based programs that will benefit the women inside. There certainly wasn’t any program that involved a police officer working with the inmates – this aspect is what makes the project so special and so needed.  The success of The IF Project is really due in large part to the women themselves – when they walk into the workshop, they choose to be vulnerable in sharing their stories and struggles. We are grateful to have created a program in concert with the women themselves that has changed the status quo and enabled them to have a kind of support group inside. All the writing prompts are just specifically created for The IF Project. They have evolved over the years with input from myself, the writing instructor Amber Flame, Det. Bogucki and the women themselves.

Det. Bogucki, you've  become a lot more to the women than a detective; a mentor in many ways. Do you have a background in social work?

Det Kim Bogucki: I graduated from Seattle University with a BA in Social Work and almost immediately joined the Seattle Police Department. Although I am not in a formal social work role, a large part of policing today has some social work aspects. I have been doing police work for 28 years, much of it with at-risk youth, and it has taught me a lot about people and their needs.

When the If Project travels to work with youth, is that at schools or are they also prisons or juvenile detention centers? 

Kathlyn: The IF Project works with youth at schools, prisons, juvenile facilities, community centers – basically anywhere that we are needed. While the project began at a women’s prison, we do also serve the male population.

Detective, were you involved at Washington State Correction Center for Women before? If not, how did you find it and why do you continuously work there? Why just women and not men?

Det Bogucki: I was not involved at WCCW prior to the IF Project, however in college I did write a paper on Lesbianism in Women's Prisons and did my research there in the '80s. In 2008, I was contacted by Girl Scouts Beyond Bars to work with a troop of girls whose mothers were incarcerated. As their mothers were incarcerated at WCCW, I decided to visit them to ask their permission to work with their daughters. Can you imagine? A cop in uniform asking them for their permission.  It was the first time I had really talked with the people I had been arresting all of those years. In that first conversation, I posed a question that would forever change my life:  "If there was anything anyone could have said or done to change the path that led you here, what would it have been?" The reasons why women go to prison are very different than the reasons behind why men go to prison, and they need very different things both inside and when they re-enter the community. I am so motivated and inspired as the women discover that they have worth, that they have a voice, and that they can re-write their own stories and have impact beyond themselves.

How does this detention center compare to Orange is the New Black? 

Kathlyn: When OITNB first came out, many of my friends who knew I had been working on this film for many years asked the same question. While they often have to stretch the bounds of prison life to build active story lines, overall, I think they have done a good job in showing the humanity and realness of women behind bars. All too often the media presents us with the perspective of those in the criminal justice system as “the other” and is very crime focused, so I am in full support of anything that dispels that myth. OITNB has certainly helped paved the way there and The IF Project has often been called the Real OITNB. The reality is that these women are real people like you and I. If the public is given an opportunity to get to know the person and not just the crime, then we might start paying attention to who these people actually are. Once we begin to care about those involved in the criminal justice system, we will be more motivated to become active in supporting prison reform, economic justice, issues of race and all these factors that push people into the system. Nobody starts out in life with the dream of going to prison.  It is our job as fellow citizens to get engaged, lift each other up and work toward removing these barriers.

Why is this is an important story to tell?

Kathlyn: About 700,000 inmates are released from federal and state prisons each year, and approximately two-thirds will reoffend within three years. I believe the future of our communities and our nation rests on how we rehabilitate and reintegrate former prisoners back into society. The answers to the IF question show us that we are returning offenders back to our communities broken and unprepared. We are in an important moment in time for this conversation. The topic of mass incarceration is a constant in today’s headlines. 

I am hopeful that the conversations started across the country will influence policy and practice in our corrections systems, increasing support for transition to post-prison life, increasing access to employment and housing for felons through “ban the box” initiatives, and reinstating voting rights for felons nationwide. 

What are your views on the recent police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement?

Det Kim Bogucki: Let me say unequivocally that black lives do matter. I believe this project shows that what society often views as two opposing sides (cops and convicts) can come together to make powerful change. It is a challenging and complex situation, but one we must address. The more we look at one another's perspective and give it as much worth as our own, the closer we can become. This project is about sharing perspectives and breaking down real and perceived barriers so healing can occur and change can happen. We do have a broken system that is not easy for people to trust. That is why telling people's stories, putting a human face back on people that have been incarcerated and police that are doing this kind of work is so important.

Watch the trailer for The IF Project below