Connie Bolden ’20 Overcomes Domestic Violence and Sets Her Sights On Law School

Connie Bolden ’20 Overcomes Domestic Violence and Sets Her Sights On Law School

Connie Bolden ’20 Overcomes Domestic Violence and Sets Her Sights On Law School

Listening to John Jay’s Pre-Law Institute (PLI) students read their law school personal statements can stir up a lot of feelings. These students write about topics that are affecting our students’ everyday lives—parents being deported, beating cancer, facing down discrimination, and surviving civil war. Any law school would be extremely fortunate to have one of these students attend their institution, and their personal statements exemplify experiences and voices that are desperately needed to diversify the bar. But one personal essay presented at our most recent PLI Boot Camp revealed a unique voice of perseverance and strength. Her story was so compelling that it unanimously won the PLI Boot Camp personal statement contest. It was the voice of Connie Bolden ’20, a 64-year-old John Jay student who survived repeated acts of domestic violence, who struggles with housing insecurity, and still manages to stay the course at John Jay. She envisions herself going to law school and using her legal degree to help other survivors such as herself.

“I attempted to have my husband arrested several times, but domestic violence was normalized back in the ’70s.” —Connie Bolden  

Back in the 1970s, awareness, compassion, and advocacy for domestic violence survivors wasn’t what it is today. “I attempted to have my husband arrested several times, but domestic violence was normalized back in the ’70s. The police would say, ‘you’re a couple, this is what happens in a marriage.’ One time when he was actually arrested, the judge’s response was, ‘as husband and wife, you fight, and then you have sex to make up,’” said Bolden. Over time her husband would hit her, throw her, and even stab her with a screwdriver. “His defense to the police was always, ‘it was an accident,’ and they would tell us to work it out. It got to the point where I just stopped calling the police,” said Bolden. Coming from a strong Catholic background, the idea of divorce was a tough concept for her to imagine.

The breaking point for Bolden was when the violence affected her young daughter. The family had gone to the park and everything seemed fine. When they got home and were settling in the kitchen, her husband grabbed her by the throat and threw her up against the refrigerator. “He said, ‘didn’t I tell you not to talk to other men!’ The next thing I knew, he was screaming because my four-year-old daughter had taken a steak knife and stuck him in the leg. She was trying to protect me. That’s when I knew I had to leave. Enough was finally enough.”

“The system had failed me. The police and the courts did not follow the laws that offered me protection and peace of mind from being abused.” —Connie Bolden

Even after Bolden left her husband, he continued to stalk her, harass her, hold her against her will, and nearly kill her on multiple occasions. To stay alive, Bolden had to leave her daughter with her mother-in-law and avoid any place where her husband would possibly look for her. “The system had failed me. The police and the courts did not follow the laws that offered me protection and peace of mind from being abused,” said Bolden. “I left my husband, but because he stalked me, I never felt safe. As a result, I felt like I disappeared from my own life.”

In 2006, Bolden found out that her husband, whom she never successfully divorced, had passed away. “He was an alcoholic. He had lost his lower legs. He was staying at a nursing home,” said Bolden. “Afterwards, I talked to psychologists, sociologists, priests, and they would all say the same thing, you lived through it, let it go. But I would always tell them, for me, it’s still going on.” The only way Bolden managed to move on with her life was to focus on helping other women like herself. Her plan: Get an education in criminal justice, go to law school, and support survivors.

“If someone asked me what my experience was like at John Jay, I’d explain it in one word—gorgeous.” —Connie Bolden

In 2015, Bolden attended Borough of Manhattan Community College with a Criminal Justice major. Afterwards, she transferred to John Jay in the spring of 2018 and switched to a Law & Society major. “If someone asked me what my experience was like at John Jay, I’d explain it in one word—gorgeous. Everyone is so helpful, especially with my current situation, experiencing homelessness,” said Bolden, who has been facing housing insecurities for four yeas. “My professors, Single Stop, the Urban Male Initiaive, these people make sure I have a metro card and meal tickets. All these services make this place a safe haven for me.”

“As a mature woman, student, and survivor of domestic violence, I bring life experiences and knowledge that would enable me to enlighten others.” —Connie Bolden

At 64 years old, Bolden knows exactly what’s ahead of her and what she wants to accomplish after graduating from John Jay and law school. She hopes to become an Assistant District Attorney. “I want to prosecute abusers. I want to push for stronger laws and penalties that could save survivors’ lives. The main reason why I’m returning to school is because domestic violence, sexual harassment, and child abuse are still going strong, and the system is not working,” said Bolden. “As a mature woman, student, and survivor of domestic violence, I bring life experiences and knowledge that would enable me to enlighten others about how the laws are still not helping everyone, especially African-Americans, Latinas, and other minorities.” After meeting Bolden, and witnessing the true strength and perseverance she possesses, it’s hard not to imagine her dream becoming a reality.