'The If Project': TV Review

The If Project Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Tinfish Films

The If Project Still - Publicity - H 2016

An intimate and affecting look at true community policing.

Kathlyn Horan’s documentary about a prison writing program follows its fest-circuit run with a small-screen debut on Logo.

There’s no bad cop to “balance” the very good cop at the center of The If Project. On Kathlyn Horan’s involving documentary, Seattle police detective Kim Bogucki is, straight up, a great civil servant. Against the odds, she and a self-professed cop hater have forged a bond, spearheading a transformative writing project for inmates at a maximum security women’s prison. Amid a heated national conversation about the militarization of police and the often toxic relationship between cops and civilians, the film could hardly be more timely.

Horan spent most of a decade chronicling the If Project, the writing workshop created by Bogucki and inmate Renata Abramson at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. Bogucki was focused on youth outreach when, in 2008, she posed a question to the kids’ incarcerated mothers: “If there was something somebody could have said or done that would have changed the path that led you here, what would it have been?”

It wasn’t a mere exercise; Bogucki, driven to stop the chains of addiction, crime and incarceration since her first encounter with homeless teens on the streets of Seattle, wanted to understand the women’s experience. Abramson, a repeat offender serving her third sentence, took it one step further, asking her fellow inmates to write down their answers to the question.

Eight years later, the program is going strong. Horan is there as writing instructor Amber Flame guides groups of inmates through the process, and as the women read their answers out loud, often tearfully, sometimes breaking down in uncontrollable sobs. From celebrations of simple pleasures to wrenching confessions, their soul-searching words represent the great leap of courage it takes to be vulnerable in a place where vulnerability is usually used against you.

In brief footage of the first workshop that Bogucki and Abramson led, the detective appears in uniform, presumably armed. At some point she opted for jeans and T-shirt instead — a choice that speaks volumes about her ease with the women and her bonds to them. And as the film attests, it’s a connection that doesn’t end when their sentences are over. Abramson admits to being astounded that she could find common ground with a cop; “I’ve raised my kids to hate them,” she says. But the rapport between the two women is as vibrant as their mutual respect is real.

Horan doesn’t specify the size of the program or whether other members of the police force are involved, but Bogucki’s commitment, and that of the participants, couldn’t be clearer. Given the growth of the American prison-industrial complex over recent decades, and the fact that women are the fastest-growing segment of the country’s incarcerated population, The If Project’s portrait of people-focused policing is not just inspiring but an urgent lesson in communication across a widening divide.

Airs: September 14, 8 p.m. ET/PT, 7 p.m. CT (Logo)

Production: TinFish Films and Logo Documentary Films
Director: Kathlyn Horan
Writer: Kathlyn Horan
Producer: Kathlyn Horan
Executive producers: Chris McCarthy, Pamela Post, Tajamika Paxton, Sarah Barton
Editor: Ben Daughtrey
Composer: Heather Reid  

88 minutes