Kidnapped by escaped convicts, woman finds peace

Laura Garcia By Laura Garcia

Dec. 6, 2017 at 10:06 p.m.
Updated Dec. 7, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Bonnie Washington talks about being kidnapped by three state prison inmates in 1975. Washington was able to work through the fear by attending counseling at Program Hope in Port Lavaca.

Bonnie Washington talks about being kidnapped by three state prison inmates in 1975. Washington was able to work through the fear by attending counseling at Program Hope in Port Lavaca.   Evan Lewis for The Victoria Advocate

PORT LAVACA - Fear was something Bonnie Washington had learned to live with.

But eventually the fear started to consume her life; she found it difficult to leave the house and was sleeping all the time.

The medications doctors prescribed never really helped her, she said. A new doctor suggested she enroll in an intensive outpatient behavioral health program for depression.

Program Hope, established in 2014 by Memorial Medical Center in Port Lavaca, offers counseling for those 55 and older.

Washington's tale of survival began Nov. 19, 1975, when she was kidnapped by three escaped convicts near Brazoria.

She was rushing home from her shift at Sears that afternoon because she wanted to see her children get off the school bus.

She took a back road near Clemens Unit and came upon a prison dump truck stopped in the roadway.

When she tried to go around the truck, her vehicle was rammed into a ditch.

Three unsupervised prison trustees abducted her during an attempt to escape.

One inmate had a knife.

"I couldn't walk because my ankle was broken," she remembered.

They dragged her on her stomach toward the Brazos River and pushed her into the water. Once they made it across, they pushed her toward the woods.

Washington said that's when it sunk in that she could be raped.

Just then, the sounds of barking dogs caused the men to scatter. The men told her the dogs would come for her and she climbed a tree.

Eventually, she made her way to the road and waved down the authorities.

"From that moment, I was petrified driving in a car," she said. "I was so afraid of going anywhere."

The inmates were found a few days later, and two months later, she faced the men in court.

Five years later, while working at Radio Shack, she was robbed at gunpoint.

"I've never worked again since then," she said.

Washington focused on raising her children.

"I just kind of stuffed it down and went on with life," she said.

Washington, now 72, still carries a pistol in her purse for protection, but she no longer feels like a hostage to fear.

Washington said the sessions at Program Hope provided an outlet for her to talk about the fear and learn coping mechanisms.

She enjoyed the sessions so much that she asked her best friend to give it a try.

Ann Mangum, 73, has known Washington since first grade. The Palacios natives tell each other everything.

Mangum didn't have high expectations. "I thought, 'I'm just gonna go to support Bonnie.'"

Mangum said her story is not nearly as dramatic. When she was a child, she was molested by her brother-in-law.

"I never realized the shame I carried," she said.

The abuse haunted her, but after all these years, she thought she had learned to live with these feelings.

She, too, had sought help, but nothing was the right fit.

Mangum soon learned there were many others who struggled with similar issues, including anxiety, depression, grief and loss.

"They might say one word, and it would trigger everyone in the room," she said.

For one assignment, the counselor asked the group to write a letter to whoever significantly hurt them.

"It was just like you dropped 20 pounds," she said. "It was so liberating."

Mangum, who for many years was a single mother, said her two daughters noticed the difference.

Washington and Mangum said their husbands also saw a change.

Chris Kovarek, director of Program Hope, said they are accepting new patients and services are covered by most insurance plans.

Treatment is provided primarily in a group setting; however, a psychiatrist is available, she said.

The average new patient attends either two or three days per week.

She said patients do not need a doctor's referral.

"What we hope is that they are finding something constructive to do," she said. "For a lot of people, they've lost the motivation or desire to do things."

Kovarek said bus transportation is available within a 30-mile radius of Port Lavaca as well as lunch.

"We can also come to the patient's location to provide an initial assessment," she said.

Similar outpatient programs for senior citizens are offered in Edna and Refugio.

Therapy lasted about a year for the two best friends.

They each left with a binder full of paper handouts.

Mangum makes copies of those handouts and gives them to anyone she comes across who could benefit from the help.

She volunteers at the small hospital in Palacios and says she's much happier.

Not far away, her best friend just started a volunteer position at a dog rescue.

"It's life-changing," Washington said about her experience in the program. "It's the very best thing I've ever done for myself."


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