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Rachel Belle interviews inmate Renata Abramson.

Women's Prison & The If Project: Part III : Reentering Society

Last week I visited the Washington Correction Center For Women in Gig Harbor and over the past couple of days, I've introduced you to some of the inmates there. They all participate in The If Project, a program created by inmate Renata Abramson and Seattle Police Detective Kim Bogucki, that is based on this question:

"If there was something somebody could have said or done to change the path that led you here, what would it have been?"

When I went to the prison to do the interviews, my focus was just to tell you about The If Project. When I left, I felt a strong need to humanize these women. To show you that they're mothers and daughters, just like we are. Because most of them will get out of prison eventually, and they need a lot of support and guidance so they don't go back.

"I think it's the first year, the recidivism rate is 70%. That's our tax dollars," says Detective Bogucki. "If people don't start giving them a break or giving them a job or giving them a house, they're going to do what they need to do to survive. I see these women as people. I don't really walk in and see the big F for Felon on their chest. But they still do and when they leave here they feel that's something that they're always carrying."

Prison seems to run in Renata's family: her mother was locked up, so were four of her five siblings, both her son and her daughter. Renata met Kim, and helped found The If Project, five years ago. When she gets out of prison next year, she plans to squash her old habits for the very first time.

"I'm really not worried about myself using again. That desire has been completely relieved of me. I've been to prison a few times and so this is the first time I've never even had the desire. I think I'm more scared about being a mom again after so many years. I see my daughter once a month and that's for two hours. There's really not a lot of mothering you can get in for those short amount of visits."

She says if anyone wants to help, they can volunteer to drive kids to visit their parents in prison.

"A lot of women in here, the grandparents are raising the kids and they're ill," Renata explains. "My pretty much only relationship going on with my daughter has been because somebody out there, I don't even know her, her name's Maria. Thank you Maria. She comes and picks up my daughter once a month. She lives somewhere in Everett. She drives to Bremerton, picks my daughter up, brings her here and then brings her home so that I can have a visit."

The If Project helps women explore their pasts, face their demons and figure out the root of their problems, so they can reenter society with coping tools and self esteem.

"They started peeling back the layers and they were like, 'Wow, if I don't take care of this, when I get out I'm going to fill it the same way that I filled it before.' Unhealthy relationships, drugs and alcohol, self medication, violence. It's also helped them really start to take look at what they need to take care of while they're incarcerated so they don't repeat a pattern and end up back in here."

Kim thinks there's a big difference between men and women being released from prison.

"If you're a woman and you're getting out and you're a mom and, all of a sudden, you walk out the door and here's your kids. It's a lot to navigate when you walk out the door with $40 cash and a 300 minute phone and here's your kids. It is one thing The If Project is going to expand to this year. We're going to pilot a reentry project with 20 women and hook them up with mentors when they're getting out."

A lot of these women know what they did, and they're not looking for handouts. Tanya Wilson says they're mostly looking for compassion.

"What people forget about women and men in prison is that we're people. They think that somehow we are qualitatively different than they are, but we're not. We've broken the law but our lives have been filled by just as much pain. There are people who are mothers and daughters who have bachelors and masters degrees, who are caregivers."

If you want to donate your time, as a mentor, speaker or teacher, or if you'd like to donate money to The If Project, you can contact Kim at The If Project

If you're a convict, who has had trouble finding work, click here to contact Conviction Careers.

Rachel Belle, Ron and Don Show Reporter
Rachel Belle is a feature contributor and personality on The Ron & Don Show on KIRO Radio (weekdays 3-7pm), and host of Ring My Belle Weekends (Sundays at 3pm).
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