Rebecca Purkey, co-owner of Bonnie & Clydes Baked Goods in Springfield, has been overcoming obstacles since she was a baby. When she was three weeks old, a softball hit her in the head, shattering her skull and damaging half her brain. She has struggled with brain injury and epilepsy ever since. Born in Eugene, she also spent some of her childhood in Junction City and Cheshire.
Rebecca’s parents were told she would never walk or talk, and for years, she didn’t. But she began making sounds at age three, and she grew up to become a student athlete and high school graduate.
She has also survived growing up with abuse. Her mother and stepfather were violent with her in all ways—emotionally, physically, and sexually—beginning when she was five years old and increasing with time. Her mother broke Rebecca’s head open several times and beat her almost to death once.
By the time Rebecca was a teenager, she was completely controlled by her mother, more like a robot than a person. She refers to the first 21 years of her life as “before I was a human being.” She didn’t make decisions or have conscious thoughts, desires, or dreams. “If an adult told me what to do, I did it—no questions asked,” she says.
Rebecca’s parents often forgot to feed her and her little brother. The kids also weren’t allowed to cook for themselves, so they would only eat at school. During summers, she would go days without eating.
Rebecca was a dedicated athlete—every term, she either played a sport or weight trained. After practice, her parents would forget to come pick her up at school. So she would tell her coaches that she was walking to a friend’s house, wait until they left, and knock on the school doors. The janitor would let her in and allow her to sleep in the locker room, but with a price—she had to sleep with him first.
At age 13, she met a man who seemed like a friend but became a pimp. She was so broken down that all he had to do was offer her food. “He had me at, ‘Come over for lunch.’ It was that easy,” she explains. She was starving; he gave her milk and food. He let her eat whatever she wanted for breakfast, and sometimes he took her out for breakfast. He gave her new clothes, when she had worn the same clothes for three years. Before she met him, she had worn one pair of pants per week. He lived a few blocks from her high school, and Rebecca recalls, “It was nice to be able to walk somewhere to sleep, in a real bed, instead of in the locker room.” He also gave her school supplies. He gave her everything her parents didn’t.
The man had two young boys, and one day he asked Rebecca to sleep with his friend so he could get money to take care of them. Then that happened more and more, then multiple times a day. Around that time the man changed— “switched to a different kind of person”—and began controlling Rebecca overtly rather than covertly. He locked her in a room after school. Men would come in all day and all night. One summer, he locked her in for the entire summer.
Like most people, Rebecca didn’t know this was how pimps operate—finding vulnerable women, “dating” them, and then gradually maneuvering them into prostitution. In fact, she didn’t even know that she had been trafficked, or even what sex trafficking is, until recently. She found out while talking to a friend about some nightmares she had, which were related to her past. Her friend said, “I didn’t know you were sex trafficked.” She introduced Rebecca to Diana Janz, director of Hope Ranch Ministries. One goal of Hope Ranch is to educate everyone about warning signs of trafficking, to prevent other young women from getting sucked in unknowingly.
One high school teacher, Jared, was an advocate for Rebecca. He would listen to her and filed a number of reports on her behalf. When she was 19, she left her parents’ house and went to live with Jared. This breakthrough happened because her stepdad assaulted Rebecca on the side of the road and a police officer witnessed it. She asked to be removed from her home. Jared provided a safe place to live, but he still treated Rebecca like a child, and she was ready to be an adult.
At age 21, Rebecca’s life turned around. She was on an LTD bus and had a brief conversation with another passenger, Mike Kelly. Mike had gotten out of prison the previous month, after being there for 25 years. He was kind and shy. After talking to him for 10 minutes, Rebecca turned to her friend and said, “I’m going to marry that guy one day.”
Mike was the first person to see Rebecca as a capable individual, a human being. A few weeks after they met, Mike asked her what she would do in a particular situation. She said, “I don’t know; whatever Jared wants me to do.” Mike said, “No, what does Rebecca want to do?” This was a new question.
Mike and Rebecca started dating and then became husband and wife. Mike taught her how to take care of herself, pay rent, cook, clean, and do laundry—in short, how to be an adult.
Rebecca stresses that everyone needs a support system, someone who is willing to sit and listen. She encourages anyone in a situation like hers to reach out for help. In addition, she says, “You need to make a decision to become a better person. And that’s hard, especially when you’re brainwashed.” Her parents had told her she would never graduate from high school and nobody would ever marry her. “I decided to prove them wrong and become a responsible adult—someone others can look up to—not just because of things I’ve lived through but because of things I’m doing.”
What she’s doing is running a gluten-free bakery out of her home. Mike has celiac disease, and Rebecca wanted to make him some edible food. She made many trial batches, including pancakes that even their dog wouldn’t eat. One night she went to bed frustrated with her failed attempts; that night she dreamed of a recipe. She tried it the next morning, and it worked. It was pancakes. She continued to research and experiment.
In January of 2016, Bonnie & Clydes Baked Goods was born. Mike and Rebecca’s business is growing quickly. They service more than 70 people monthly and have products available in 9 local businesses, including The Vintage, Café 440, Slocum Café, and Old Crow Coffee.
Rebecca and Mike’s motto is, “If you want something, get it—you just have to do the work first.” After everything Rebecca has overcome, she believes that “you only put barriers on yourself.” She went from being controlled to owning her own business. She regularly does things she never thought she would, like calling the IRS with questions about self-employment. Beyond just a human being or a responsible adult, she has become a model of prevailing—one all of us can look up to.