Kim Bogucki and Amanda DuBois

A Tribute to Renata Abramson

Recently, my friend, retired Seattle Police detective, Kim Bogucki, shared her story with me about the unlikely friendship she developed with Renata Abramson while Renata was incarcerated at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. Just wait until you learn about the astonishing ripple effect that Renata created from inside prison.

Renata passed away in 2023. With Renata’s family’s blessing, I’m honored to share her story and talk about the impact she had on the lives of  countless people around the globe.  

Grab your drink, find a spot to settle in, and get comfy. 

In 2008, Kim went inside the women’s prison to meet with the mothers whose daughters had signed up to be in her Girl Scouts Beyond Bars troop. Not surprisingly, the women weren’t very enthusiastic about a cop leading their daughters. Nevertheless, Kim went forward with the meeting and at the end, almost as an afterthought, she asked them a simple question that would change thousands of lives around the world:  

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

Get this: none of the women had a concrete answer. 

Three weeks later, Kim returned to the prison where Renata greeted her with a stack of papers–answers to The If Question. 

“I can never put into words the energy, the connection, the something that happened when Renata handed me that stack of papers and said, ‘These are the answers to that question from the women that I’ve talked to inside.” 

To Kim’s great surprise, Renata had decided to challenge herself to overcome her hatred of cops, and to reflect on the question Kim had posed. Renata gathered answers to The If Question from the women inside and presented them to Kim in a clear plastic bag (as required by the prison).

Kim was overwhelmed with emotion when she dug into those pieces of notebook paper with the women’s heartfelt answers scrawled on them. There was no blame on the system or the police–the women’s answers were thoughtful and reflected on pivotal moments in their lives where they went this way instead of that way. One of the most common themes was that nobody was ever there for them. 

Thereafter, every time Kim went into the prison, Renata had gathered a new set of answers to  The If Question.  Kim called her friend, Kathlyn Horan, a filmmaker in LA, and she said, “You’ve got to come up. You’ve got to meet these women.” 

What resulted was The IF Project, a documentary featuring incarcerated women and the “sacred scrolls” – the letters that Renata collected and shared with Kim. It’s a way for these women to share their answers with younger versions of themselves–girls who could use the women’s experiences to avoid following in their footsteps. 

The IF Project has grown into a movement of currently and formerly incarcerated adults and advocates focused on reduction and prevention of incarceration and recidivism. Now 16 years running, The IF Project has spread across the US and beyond; the US State Department facilitated The IF Project staff to travel to embassies worldwide to lead discussions about female incarceration. Because of COVID, The IF Project has expanded into a virtual space, as well. Imagine the number of people whose lives have been affected just because Renata took it upon herself to collect answers to Kim’s If Question.  

“Everything that the project does, all six of the programs that it has, come from the answers to my original question,” Kim said, “We’re figuring out how to get that answer into programming that allows people to make different choices.” 

The goal is to not have children end up in the back of a police car or follow in their parent’s footsteps to prison. 

Two-thirds of The IF Project staff are formerly incarcerated, which was the vision from the beginning. “We’ve never done anything without formerly incarcerated people at the table,” Kim said. “I’m not going to think that I know what they need, but I want to hear what they need. I was in a position of power and privilege to help kick open some doors so that those stories can be heard and people can make change, and it needs to come from their mouths and their experiences.”

Renata’s sudden tragic passing in December 2023 left a hole in Kim, along with many others whose lives Renata has impacted. “In my life, she’s had the most significant impact on any of the work I’ve done,” Kim shared. 

“Every single thing I do right now – in my profession, in my personal life, the people that I know, the places that I’ve gone, the prisons that I’ve visited around the world to talk about gender responsiveness and looking at the women’s pathway differently – all stems down to Renata. It’s a hard loss and I’m still digesting and reflecting on that. It took one person taking a look at themselves and the hatred they had for the police, which I represented, who decided to shed that, to change hundreds to thousands of lives.”

Renata’s Ripple Lives On

If Kim could leave you with one thing, it is this:

“I don’t think you need to have letters or a title before or after your name to change the world or start a movement. It can be the simplest thing that you don’t realize. The next person sparks the next person, and the next thing you know, it’s just spidering everywhere, and that’s what Renata did. She still continues to do it today.”

If you would like to be part of continuing Renata’s ripple effect, you can support The IF Project by donating or volunteering. But absolutely make time to watch the documentary.

As we honor Renata’s legacy, I leave you to ask yourself this question: Is there a person I know whose life has been impacted in a way that has given them insight into how we can do things differently? What can I do to help them to have their voice heard? Take a moment to reflect on this.



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