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Women’s Prison & The If Project Part II: Keeping Kids Out of Prison

Inmates at the Washington Correction Center For Women (Photo courtesy

In a previous report, I told you about The If Project, where women at Gig Harbor’s Washington Correction Center For Women are getting inspired to change their futures because of a single question posed by Seattle Police Detective Kim Bogucki.

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

That question struck a chord, and it soon bloomed into intense writing workshops for the female inmates, who started to explore their abusive pasts and emotional turmoil to figure out what prompted them to commit crimes in the first place. The reason they were so willing to answer this question, for a cop, is because their answers are benefiting kids.

“When the project started, when we went around the room, and there were about 100 women in the room, every single one of them was like, ‘I just want to make sure that somebody doesn’t follow in my footsteps.'” Kim says.

So Kim takes former inmates, who have gone through the If Project, and reformed their lives, into juvenile detention centers and schools in six counties to talk to kids before they go down the wrong path.

“In 25 years of police work, I have never seen kids so engaged and riveted. This isn’t Scared Straight, there’s no yelling and screaming. My team speaks from the heart in the hopes of touching one of those kids and making one of those kids go, ‘Wow, that’s what I’m doing right now and I need to ask for help.’ The bottom line is, how do we get them to ask for help?”

They don’t only focus on the so-called “bad kids.” Kim says there are kids sitting in the back of classrooms at private schools with secrets, and she wants to get to them before it’s too late.

“My team just gets to know their little group and a lot of stuff comes up. We’ve had to file CPS reports, we’ve had to file police reports with stuff that was going on in the home: molestation, child abuse. The number one [request] is for a mentor. No positive adult role model in their life. Even kids that have great parents, if they’re not home a lot or they’re not feeling like they can talk to them, they just want somebody who will actually listen and not talk at them.”

They also show the preteens and teens a video, featuring the women prisoners.

“At the moment, it might seem fun but really just think hard about what you’re doing because your life really depends on your actions. Once you get here, there’s no way out. You’re stuck here,” says Jessica, an inmate since 2007.

“If you want to try to make a name for yourself, to try to be big and bad, make it positive. It sounds corny, I know, like, ‘Oh that’s lame.’ I know, I was one of those. ‘Oh, you’re corny, that’s lame, you know, I’m hard, I gotta do this, I gotta make a name for myself.’ But my name now is 892862.” says LaKeisha.

“When you come here, you don’t have nothing,” says an inmate named Tiffany. “You walk in by yourself and you’re going to leave by yourself. This is no joke man, we can’t even touch in here, you know. Two years, I haven’t had physical contact. I haven’t been hugged or held. You can’t even imagine.”

The If Team runs the gamut from former thieves to murderers that Kim has personally vetted, trained and deemed ready to talk to kids. Sex offenders or anyone with a child crime is never allowed to participate.

“A lot of them have victimized people,” Kim says. “There’s people out there who are victims of the crimes they’ve committed. But the people that are involved in our project, the men and the women, they’re involved in the project because they want to make a change. They’re not getting anything out of it. They don’t get paid to do this. They don’t get time off to do this. They’re doing it because they don’t want a kid to be following in their footsteps. They want to figure out how to give back because a lot of them know what they have taken.”

A former gangbanger from Tacoma’s hilltop neighborhood, Tanya Wilson is serving time for two counts of first degree attempted murder in a drive-by shooting.

“Being able to take our pain, our guilt, our shame, the things that have happened to us, and give it as a gift to a kid, who may be positively affected by it, that is one of the most powerful things that a person can do.”

We’ll hear more from Tanya in the next report, when we explore what it’s like for these women to get out of prison. Seventy percent of them will end up back behind bars within the first year.

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