No one decides they want to go to prison, and most who end up there wish they could do things differently. In the new Logo documentary The IF Project, a group of female inmates are given the chance to give voice to that wish, and maybe help someone from making the same mistakes they did.
Directed by Kathlyn Horan, the film chronicles Seattle police officer Kim Bogucki, who asked inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women one simple question: “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?”
In 2008, Bogucki visited the prison hoping to ask inmates if she could work with their school-aged daughters in a program aimed at helping children with incarcerated parents.
But when she asked them to address what they would have told their younger selves, she realized she was onto something else entirely.
“I thought ‘Holy cow, they have this incredible information that we need to get out there,’” Bogucki tells NewNowNext. “They’d been down the road these kids are facing. I basically had the grown-up, incarcerated version of these girls I was trying to help.”
One inmate, Renata Abramson, started collecting essays from the women explaining what they would have told their younger selves. When Bogucki returned for a followup meeting some weeks later, Abramson handed her 25 essays,
Bogucki says she knew something amazing was happening, but she didn’t know what to do next.
Horan did: The two had been introduced previously by mutual friends, and Horan was looking for a story about social justice that had strong emotional resonance. “The IF Project” fit the bill perfectly.
After the prison gave permission, Horan assembled a group of inmates, who opened up about their essays—and their lives.
“Nearly every single one of them said they wanted to use their voices to prevent other people from ending up where they were,” she says. “Not just their own children but other kids.”
Before filming, Bogucki and Horan had to establish trust with the inmates, most of whom didn’t exactly have positive feelings about the police. Additionally, some of the women had been approached to appear on reality shows like WE’s Women Behind Bar and were leery about being exploited.
But Horan and Bogucki, the SPD’s department’s LGBTQ liaison officer, offered two things that convinced them they were on the level: dedication and compassion.
“They saw that we kept showing up and we let them know that their voices and stories mattered,” says Bogucki. “And I think they realized that getting it out there, we could actually make change. That was a big deal for them.”
That sense of trust was mutual: Horan screened The If Project for the inmates to make sure they were okay with how they were portrayed.
“They put their lives out there, and they’ve already been through a lot of stuff,” she says. “I didn’t want to add to that. This was meant to be something that elevated.”
Horan also opted to omit what crime the women were incarcerated for. “If I introduced someone who was a second-degree murderer, you’d immediately ignore their story or listen to it differently,” she says. “It’s important to put some of that stuff aside and just pay attention to each other as people.”
The screening, attended both by current inmates and women who had since been released, was a huge success—and prompted even more discussion.
“They ended up having an amazing conversation with each other about what it’s like to reenter society,” Horan says. “And about what freedom is really like.”
Horan ultimately hopes to turn The If Project into a four-part series, with segments focused on juvenile offenders and male inmates. “There’s a lot of commonality,” she says, “but the men answer the question very differently.”
The If Project premieres September 14 at 8/7c on Logo.