The World Premiere of The IF Project Documentary featured as a part of the Seattle International Film Festival on May 21st and 22nd as a part of the 2016 Documentary Competition! Director Kathlyn Horan, Detective Kim Bogucki, Renata Abramson, Tiffany Doll, Angela Vargas, and other IF Team members were in attendance for the screenings. Next, The IF Project Documentary will be featured in the Brooklyn Film Festival on June 5th and 7th as a Official Selection!
In the United States, there are over 6.9 million people in prison, in jail, on probation or parole. That is one in every 34 adults. Perhaps even more alarming is that women are the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population, increasing at nearly double the rate of men since 1985.
In 2008, Seattle police officer Kim Bogucki walked through the gates of the Washington Corrections Center for Women, intent on asking a group of mothers for permission to work with their school-aged daughters in a Girl Scouts Beyond Bars troop for girls with incarcerated parents. On that day, Bogucki asked the mothers a critical 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?”
For one of the inmates in particular this question struck a chord. Renata Abramson was a repeat offender serving a nine-year sentence. In the days that followed, Renata took it upon herself to answer that question in writing, and invited her fellow prisoners to do the same. When Bogucki returned to prison a month later, Renata handed her a stack of raw and poignant essays and The IF Project was born.
The voices that came forth told heartbreaking stories of abject poverty, neglect, drugs, and physical, emotional and sexual abuse. For the first time in many of the women’s lives, the essays gave them a chance to express themselves and be vulnerable without judgment. For the first time, Renata saw that a police officer genuinely cared about her, and about ensuring that her children could avoid the seemingly inevitable road to incarceration. An unlikely relationship between cop and convict was forged.
The “If Project” is a feature length documentary that follows this extraordinary police officer and four of the women in the program through their journey as they are released, reunited with their families and faced with life on the outside.
About 700,000 inmates are released from federal and state prisons each year, and approximately two-thirds will reoffend within three years. How we rehabilitate and reintegrate former prisoners back into society will have a great impact on the future of our communities and our nation as a whole. The answers to the IF question as brought to life in the documentary show us that we are returning people to our communities broken and unprepared.
The outreach we are building is a multiple city, advocacy and engagement effort to increase awareness, political will, support and innovation around the idea that we must stop the endless stream of people sent to prison AND create the conditions for productive and meaningful life after prison. In each city, we will partner with local governments, police agencies, nonprofit organizations, and academic institutions to host one or more screenings of the film, followed by town hall-style panel discussions including formerly incarcerated women and local leaders. In addition, we will hold film screenings, discussions and writing workshops inside women’s prisons in each location.
We are in an important moment in time for this conversation. The topic of mass incarceration is constantly in today’s headlines. At the same time, criticism of American policing is the highest it has ever been. The IF Project demonstrates that both populations can serve each other and ultimately, our communities as a whole.
We are hopeful that the conversations started across the country as part of this project will influence policy and practice on a variety of topics: addressing social issues that lead to incarceration; improving policing practices; increasing support for successful 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. By putting a human face back on these inmates, telling their stories in an intimate and rarely seen way, The IF Project documentary lays the groundwork for change.