Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: TRF Program Gives Bonds Back Her Mental Health, Purpose - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: TRF Program Gives Bonds Back Her Mental Health, Purpose

Caroline Bonds planned every detail of her suicide, including payment for her funeral.

She was facing a five-year sentence for money laundering. She accepted responsibility for what occurred while insisting she was an unwitting victim of a man she once loved, a man she thought would someday be her husband. She felt the shame associated with the crime was more than she could bear.

“If I was around, I was a huge embarrassment to my family,” Bonds said. “I just couldn't take it.”

She saved three months' worth of her blood pressure medication, bought a bottle of Tylenol PM, and ingested it all. She narrowly avoided the outcome she wanted badly when someone checked on her. She spent a week on a ventilator before she gradually recovered.

When she began a sentence that was accompanied by 25 years of probation and an order to make financial restitution, thoughts of suicide returned.

“Being in prison was really starting to play with my head,” Bonds said. “I thought, 'There is no way I'm going to be able to do this. You're not going to be able to do this. Just end it.'“

Her grim outlook changed forever in 2014. That is when she became involved with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's Second Chances Program, overseen by John Evans at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, Fla.

“When we drove over that hill there in Ocala and I saw that farm, something changed,” Bonds said. “But the main change in me was when I got assigned Frosty Grin.”

Bonds had never been around horses. She did not know what to expect the first time she called out to Frosty Grin.

“He come running up to the gate and something inside of me started crying like a baby,” she said. “Somebody does want to see me. It changed me. It truly changed me.”

Bonds finally had someone to talk to – without fear of judgment.

“He would look right at you and he would know if I was having a blue day. I felt that horse looked right into my soul,” she said. “I talked to that horse like he was a human being and he would come back at me like 'I know. I know.' I had some heart-to-heart talks with that horse.”

The blue days became fewer. Then they were gone.

“I went from 'Damn, I woke up again' to 'Thank you, God!' “ Bonds said.

Her transformation provides one of the most inspiring stories as the Second Chances program at Lowell marks its 20th anniversary with a horse show that will be livestreamed on Oct. 21 from 8-9 p.m. ET. The show takes viewers inside the gates of the correctional facility for women to demonstrate how the program saves horses from potential slaughter and changes lives.

Bonds with Frosty Grin

Gigi Brown provides another example of someone profoundly impacted by Second Chances. She began working with retired Thoroughbreds at Lowell in 2018 while serving a four-year sentence for selling drugs.

“That was the only way I thought I could make money and succeed in life,” Brown said. “But come to find out that is so far from the truth. I would never in my life go back to anything like that again.”

She credits Evans – and the horses – with helping her see a path to a better life.

“He is one of a kind,” Brown said of Evans. “He will do everything in his power to help you succeed, if that is what you really want out of life. I've never met a man like him. He is amazing.”

The skills he taught her proved invaluable because she gained employment at Tickety-boo Farm in Melrose, Fla., a long way from peddling drugs and far more rewarding emotionally. “I like working. At the end of the day, I feel I accomplished something,” Brown said.

Evans, 73, arrived at Lowell in 2005 and works as the equine educational instructor and farm manager.

“That man, he has such a heart for the ladies out there and the program,” Bonds said. “He doesn't look at you like 'Oh, you're a convict' or 'Oh, you're a criminal.' He never once, never once, made you feel like that. He made you feel you were somebody.”

Evans initially planned to stay at Lowell for one year. Despite the blistering summer sun in Ocala, he found the work too fulfilling to leave.

“I couldn't believe how much better you felt when you influenced someone who had not had very good life experiences,” he said. “The most amazing thing was seeing the transformation of these people when they got around a horse, even if they never touched a horse before.”

Many women endure the pain of knowing they cannot be there for their children. They turn their strong maternal instincts to horses that welcome their care and affection.

“You start seeing them nurture,” Evans said. “You start seeing them wanting to be better in their lives, not to have the addictions that they've had.”

There are failures, too. Evans noted that one of his first students was a heroin addict who initially feared horses. She overcame that fear and did so well in the program that she landed a job in the industry upon her release. He and others did everything possible to see that she was successfully rehabilitated, assisting with living arrangements and the purchase of a car. Tragically, there was no escaping her heroin addiction and she eventually returned to prison.

Bonds fully embraced her second chance at life. After filling out more than 1,000 job applications in vain, she found gratifying employment with Lighthouse Ministries in Lakeland, Fla. She fills some of her spare time by volunteering at Hope Equine Rescue.

Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications.

If you wish to suggest someone as a potential subject for In Their Care, please send an email to [email protected] that includes the person's name and contact information in addition to a brief description of the individual's background.

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