If’ Injects Humanity Into Incarceration

Officer Bogucki working with inmates.

Seattle Police Officer Kim Bogucki often asks herself if there was something she could change that would alter the direction of her life would she change it. And she thinks its a question that every person should continuously ask of themselves.Bogucki is the co-founder of the IF Project, an innovative partnership between law enforcement, currently and previously incarcerated adults and community leaders that attempts to build commonalities, reduce misperceptions and deter recidivism.

On a recent episode of the WNNH FM program “Criminal Justice Insider with Babz Rawls-Ivy and Jeff Grant,” Bogucki talked about the 10-year-old program and a documentary that follows her work with the project and the journey of four women in the Washington (State) Corrections Center for Women. (Watch the trailer above.)

Bogucki came to New Haven recently for a screening of the documentary and a panel discussion hosted by The Connecticut Women’s Consortium that featured Connecticut First Lady Cathy Malloy and Criminal Justice Insider host Rawls-Ivy.

“I left the screening with IF on my mind,” Rawls Ivy said. “The ‘if’ is a big question.”

The If Project started after Bogucki was asked to work with a group of girls whose mothers were incarcerated at the Washington Corrections Center. She said when she walked into the prison she decided to ask the mothers’ permissions to speak to their daughters instead of immediately attempting to meet with the girls.

“I didn’t want them to call home and hear someone say the police were at Girl Scout troop today and then think ‘Oh my gosh, I wonder what the police are saying to my daughter about me?”

She said making the decision to go in an talk to the women and treat them like mothers by asking their permission “was the best thing that I had done in my career.”

“It opened my eyes to what’s really going on in this country with mass incarceration and what people who are actually incarcerated [are experiencing] and the benefit they can actually bring to the table in reducing this hyper mass incarceration that we have by the sharing of their stories,” she said.

A decade later that initial instinct has turned into a writing workshop that is trying to stem the tide of incarcerated women, a segment of the incarcerated population that is now growing faster than the male incarceration rate.

Rawls-Ivy said when she found out that the documentary was about women who are incarcerated telling their stories in their own voices she wanted to see it because “you can hear somebody’s story but never hear it in their own voice. This film gives these women an opportunity to say from a real place what is happening.”

Bogucki said director Kathlyn Horan of TinFish Films shot the documentary over seven and a half years. She described it as “real and raw and genuine.”

She said that the hard personal work that each of the women in the program do while they’re incarcerated also helps them to think about what they need when they get out. She said doing that inner work means that they can recognize that reentry might look different than it might have without that work. That work informs how the programs and services need to be built on the outside.

New Haven State Rep. Robyn Porter, who has championed the rights of incarcerated women at the Capitol, most recently pushed a bill that stopped pregnant incarcerated women in the state from being shackled when they give birth. Porter said the IF project and the documentary give voice to the voiceless.

Porter said on the episode that she’d visited Manson Youth Institute and heard firsthand how silenced young people incarcerated there feel. She recounted a conversation with a young man who told her that no matter what happened to land them in prison, their word is meaningless because of the fact of their incarceration.

“To see what you’re doing by giving them a voice and giving their story power,” Porter said, “There’s so much power in story and I think when people see the IF Project … for me personally, what it said was you’re human.

“You bring the humanity to a space where people are not necessarily treated in a humane way,” she added. “And you give the women back their dignity. I think that is something that is priceless.”

“Criminal Justice Insider” airs every first and third Friday of the month on WNHH FM at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Listen to the full interview by clicking on the Facebook Live video below.