Jack and Bodhi King decided to have a wedding in late fall of 2020.
They wrote their vows on cigarette rolling papers. A friend made copper rings that turned their hands green and for a wedding cake they dumpster dove for chocolate-covered donuts from a nearby Maverik station.
Bodhi had been living in an encampment above Victory Road at the northern end of Salt Lake City for a few years and shortly after the ceremony the couple returned to the area called “the mountain.”
On Dec. 12, 2020 Bodhi found out she was pregnant. They were living in a makeshift dwelling but the baby was very much wanted. “I think we came to the conclusion that with the type of love that he and I have for one another,” Bodhi said, “everything else would work its way out.”
About 11 months later they would lose everything that mattered most to them.
In 2022, more than 3,000 children were served by the foster care system in Utah. Roughly 44% — or 659 — of children who exited the system that year were reunified with their families.
Bodhi, Jack and their daughter Raya were one of those families. Through addiction, homelessness, and losing custody of their newborn, the couple found a way back to each other and to their child. The odds were stacked against them but their love, dedication to their baby and support from people who knew them helped them overcome those odds.
“They really deserve a standing ovation for their efforts,” said Ty Bellamy, an advocate for the unsheltered in Salt Lake City. “Because it wouldn’t have happened if they really weren’t determined to get their family back together and keep it together.”
Bodhi RoseLi King, 34, was born in Salt Lake City but spent her youth moving across the country. In grade school she moved to Orlando, Fla., to live with her grandparents. She loved playing volleyball.
“It’s really given me a lot of that willpower and the ability to overcome circumstances and things that are difficult,” Bodhi explained one winter afternoon in the downtown Salt Lake City library.
Bodhi found her way back to Utah and moved to Heber when her mother, who has epilepsy, started experiencing grand mal seizures. At 16, she dropped out of high school and got her GED in order to work full time.
She moved to Park City and worked as a front desk supervisor at a hotel and then as a travel agent for two ski seasons. “I was 17 and I think the other youngest person was 22,” Bodhi recalled.
She enjoyed the work, but lost her job after a random drug test showed that she’d been smoking weed. “From 16 on, weed was definitely my coping skill,” Bodhi said. Between working full time at a young age, supporting her mother and then losing touch with her family, it provided some solace.
Without a job and with rising costs in Park City, Bodhi struggled to pay rent at her apartment. She sublet a room to a couple.
She was 19, had fallen out of touch with her mom and needed money. One of the roommates was involved in some criminal activity, she said. The wrong people were around at the right time.
“I didn’t really feel like I had any connections or ties to anything that was worth being good for,” Bodhi recalled.
She’d never faced detention in high school but within nine months, Bodhi was charged with multiple felony charges for stealing ATMs, possessing an explosive device and a stolen gun, she said.
“I knew I shouldn’t have been doing that stuff,” Bodhi said. “I didn’t have this false sense of entitlement.”
But, she caught some kind of break and was sentenced to just 18 months in county jail.
The following years marked a period of probation and drug use, stints in rehab and false starts on a more stable path. “I ended up doing almost eight years on zero tolerance, felony probation, because I got revoked or reinstated three different times,” Bodhi said.
She commuted long distances and would take on extra shifts, put up extra money in order to rent a decent place. She’d be sober and stable for long periods of time but the hurdles kept pulling her back. She lost a job after a background check turned up her past mistakes. “When I lost my job, it was just so brutal,” Bodhi said. “And I just totally fell into drugs hardcore.”
But through all of that — she kept trying, kept progressing and growing in her own way. She found her real name “Bodhi” (not the one on her birth certificate) while living in the desert in Southern California.
At one point, she moved to Spirit Lake, Idaho, in an attempt to get sober. She stayed with a friend’s parents, chopping wood and drilling holes in steel beams in -17 degree weather.
“That was a really brutal winter,” Bodhi said, “but it was a really cool place to get sober.”
When she moved to “the mountain,” she didn’t have to worry about the constant stress of paying rent. She said she could focus on internalizing the lessons learned in therapy and in treatment.
“It was the closest that I could achieve to being in a monastery and taking a vow of silence,” Bodhi said.
Jack King, 39, was born in California and spent his early childhood in Washington state.
When Jack was 10, his family moved to Utah. He grew up in a Latter-day Saint family with five brothers and six sisters — most of his siblings ran away from home before they were 18, he said.
“I ran away when I was 15,” Jack said. “And then never looked back.”
At 18, he started getting “into some trouble,” and was in and out of jail for the next five years. “I would have jobs here and there but usually I was just floating in the wind.”
For the most part, he couch surfed. " I was blessed with good friends,” Jack said. “So I never really felt homeless.”
Jack had been living in the basement of a house in Salt Lake City when he met Bodhi in May of 2020.
“I hadn’t seen the sun in about a year,” Jack remembered. “I don’t know what the hell she saw in me. But she did. She saw it.”
Bodhi was living at the encampment above Victory Road by that time. Jack followed her to the hillside in July, and several months later they were a couple.
Jack and Bodhi had few possessions — but living together outside, dumpster diving and rock hounding, they were happy. When Bodhi would go into a downward spiral, she would walk around and pick up trash on Victory Road, trying to clear the way for those driving to the state Capitol. “I get this gratification from it,” Bodhi explained. “And it actually felt like I was doing something with my time that actually had an effect on people around me.”
Even when she was eight months pregnant, Bodhi still managed to scramble up and down the steep mountain face. A couple of days before she gave birth, Bodhi inherited some money, so the couple bought an RV and were offered a spot to park it in Riverton.
But the Kings had a falling out with the friend and had to leave — so they returned to the mountain with their newborn baby, Raya.
“It looks terrible on paper,” Jack said. “Just God awful on paper living in a homeless camp on a mountainside with a newborn baby.” But he says it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. They had multiple heat sources, diapers and food. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, going to a shelter didn’t feel safe. On the mountain there was fresh air and it was easy to maintain social distance.
“This baby was the sunshine that everybody was missing in their life,” Bellamy said. Raya is a “safe, healthy, clean, deeply loved child.”
“We were doing the best we could,” Bodhi said, “but we were stuck up there.”
On Nov. 16 the state Division of Child and Family Services removed Raya from the couple’s custody, deeming their living situation as “unsafe shelter,” Jack said. “Which at the time I disagreed with, but looking back with a rational brain, it was no place to have a brand new baby.”
DCFS told the Tribune that Jack and Bodhi’s caseworker could not speak with the news media or offer any details about their case. The division did speak generally about family reunification, however.
“We, as a general rule, always start with a goal of reunification,” explained Kevin Jackson, an assistant director for the Division of Child and Family Services. “We want a child’s time in foster care to be a temporary situation.”
Parents working collaboratively with a caseworker, accepting outside support and having regular, consistent visits with their child are some of the keys to successful reunification cases.
“I think one of the best parts of what we do is in helping families be in a position to safely reside together,” Jackson said.
After Raya was taken away, Bodhi knew she would do anything to get her baby back. “I just knew I would follow Raya anywhere,” Bodhi said, “And so that’s where I had to go.”
Advocate Bellamy helped Bodhi get into a drug treatment program designed for parents. A few days after DCFS had showed up, Bodhi said she received a letter from the foster family Raya was placed with. “It made such a big difference to know that Raya was in good hands with a great family,” she said.
The foster family sent Bodhi a picture of Raya, which she turned into a necklace. After a long winter alone, Jack managed to secure a spot in a treatment program at First Step House in Salt Lake City.
Both sober, Bodhi and Jack qualified for a DCFS family unification program that helped them get into subsidized housing. Bodhi, Jack, Raya and Bodhi’s mother moved into an apartment together.
With a roof over their heads, a commitment to sobriety, and some support in place, Bodhi and Jack’s lives have transformed. “When we had her the dad gene turned on,” Jack said. “It flipped right on. I love it.”
Jack started training for a job as a bus driver for UTA and Bodhi is pregnant with their second child. “That assistance gave us the opportunity to get our feet underneath us and to get self-sufficient again,” Jack said, “Without that, we would just be scrambling. I don’t know what we would be doing.”
They go to Recovery Dharma, an approach to recovery based on Buddhist principles, twice a week.
Sitting in the children’s section of the downtown library, watching their toddler gleefully and tirelessly run, joy and light seem to pour from the couple’s faces. Everyone is delighted by Raya’s tiny hands waving, by the way she gently hugs the giant stuffed animals in the children’s section of the library.
On May 16th, Jack will turn 40 and celebrate a year of sobriety. This July they will welcome a second daughter, already named Stellar.
“I really think our secret weapon, our key ingredient, is just that he and I had worked on our own personal well-being for years,” Bodhi said. “Then it just finally all came together when we had a baby.”
About 16 years ago teenage Bodhi was sitting in a jail cell searching for a universal truth — a concept of the divine that anyone could relate to.
She wrote a piece called “The Light at the End of the Tunnel.”
The piece has no spaces, but runs on, gathering energy as each line flows into the next. She knows the words by heart and recites it as soft light trickles into the library.
The piece concludes:
“from the time I’ve spent in the dark as well as in the light I say
feel love and allow it to spread to everything you want to touch
see yourself for the truth beauty and abilities you possess
and in return lead the way for others to come into their own light
if they so choose because as I see it from right here
we are already the change this world deserves to see
it’s just up to each of us to become it.”
Editor’s note • May 11, 9:18 p.m. This story has been updated to include the percentage of children who exit the foster care system through reunification.