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Emily could rebuild her life thanks to reentry services

Going to jail helped Emily stop and look at her destructive life, and reentry services at Volunteers of America Indiana helped her repair it.

Emily Bonner walked confidently in the room. She was tall and attractive and had a warm smile. What was most noticeable however, was the quiet strength she exuded. Upon hearing her story, it became clear how Emily had developed this strength and ultimately the sense of peace she experiences today. 

Emily grew up in Indianapolis where her family had very little. Her alcoholic father was in and out of jail, and would constantly beat and verbally abuse the family. Emily was only 6 years old the day her dad went on a rampage, insisting on finding out which of the kids had drunk his Wild Irish Rose. After hours of yelling and threatening the kids, the oldest, 7 years old at the time, confessed to drinking their father’s liquor just so their father would not beat the rest of his siblings. Her eyes welled with tears as she continued …

"I remember vividly my brother’s body going limp as he dropped to the floor from the beating he received that night.” 

Things came to a head one day when her dad set the house on fire…forcing her mom to move out with the children. Emily was relieved to be moving, but her joy would be short-lived. She had no idea that the worst was yet to come. 

“We were left alone a lot, as my mother worked long hours” she said. While staying at a babysitter’s house, nine year old Emily was subjected to what would become the first of several horrific cases of abuse. She was raped by the babysitter’s brother. “I told my mother about the rape but she did nothing…she just continued to send us.” Before long, she was fighting off the advances of the baby sitter’s husband and some months later was gang raped by a group of boys in the basement of that same house. Emily’s face was now washed in tears…

“Again, I told my mother about the rape…she stopped sending us to that house but no one was ever arrested...she showed no affection at all toward me.” 

Life was miserable for 10-year-old Emily but somehow, she found the strength to move on. “I had no friends. I was taller and more developed than many of the girls my age so my clothes didn’t fit right and the kids at school would tease me.” She regularly got into fights, leaving a trail of bloody victims in her wake and her teachers in shock. How could someone so quiet be capable of such violence? Her mom told her to get a job if she wanted to wear nice clothes, so Emily got a job at Kroger bagging groceries after school. One rainy night while walking home from Kroger, she was offered a ride by a delivery truck driver. That night Emily was raped, again.

“I asked God…why does this have to happen to me.” 

But Emily’s strength to persevere kicked in again and in typical Emily style, she kept on going. 

Emily was later raped again, by a stranger whom she later discovered had raped and murdered 5 women, including an infant. When she discovered that she was pregnant with twin boys as a result of the rape, she was devastated. “This can’t be happening? What am I doing wrong God? Why are you punishing me?” These were questions Emily grappled with. “I knew I had to take care of these babies. I had someone to love and they were taking my love,” she said softly. So, with no clear answers, and with sheer determination, she forged ahead…she kept on going. 

As time went on life was hard for Emily. There was a third and a fourth child, drugs, alcohol, and broken relationships. She lowered her eyes in embarrassment as she continued, “I feel very bad about some of the things I did.” She was also heart broken to learn that one of her twin boys was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Numerous altercations took place with her kids at school and at home which ultimately resulted in her kids being taken away by Child Protective Services. The situation got worse when months later, Emily lost her job as a CNA at a local hospital because she was constantly called away to deal with issues related to her children. The lowest point came for Emily when she was charged with welfare fraud as a result of cashing checks intended for the children when they were not in her care. The usually resilient Emily, the one who kept on going, had had enough. She tried, unsuccessfully, to take her own life. 


Emily, was sent to Volunteers of America of Indiana's  Theodora House to complete her sentence.

“I am thankful for going to jail… I am happy to be here…this was one of the best things that ever happened to me. God snatched me out of the world so I could stop and take a look at my destructive, chaotic, messed up life.” 

Emily participated in Behavioral Health Substance Abuse program and shared: 

“I was able to identify how and why I used drugs. I love that class! Tomorrow is my last class and I hate that! We give each other encouragement, and I am going to miss that.”

She also participated in the Healthy Relationships  Program designed to help clients identify the key elements for a healthy relationship, Parenting Class and volunteered as part of the Theodora House Leadership Group.   

“If not for the grace of God, I would not be here. I feel like I can control my situation now.”

In a recent heated phone conversation with her mother, who now has custody of the children, Emily shared tips she learned on how to deal with stress. “I was able to calm her down…she was shocked to hear me so confident and empowered.” Emily’s CNA license has been reinstated and she plans to work in the health field again as well as volunteer her time. 

“Every time I see her it’s as if she radiates a feeling of joy and contentment,” said Greta Compton, her clinical treatment counselor. “I have yet to hear her complain or fail to accept responsibility for her situation. Ms. Comption added: 

"Emily has a certain tenacity to reach her goals and has been a positive role model for other residents here at Volunteers of America of Indiana.”