A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped while walking to school in 1991. She was 11 years old. She was held by her captor, Phillip, and his wife Nancy, for 18 years, until 2009, when she was discovered very much by accident. By this time she had two daughters, products of Phillip’s repeatedly raping her while she was in captivity. This is her memoir.

She begins with her childhood, briefly; she grew up in California and then moved to Tahoe with her mother, new stepfather, and baby (half-)sister. Then she was kidnapped. Phillip was a sex offender on parole; he had two small sheds, and eventually a series of tents, built in a “secret” backyard, hidden by fencing and foliage, where he kept Jaycee and her daughters. Nancy was complicit in his crime. Jaycee was so young when she was kidnapped, lived with Phillip for so many of her formative years, that she was very confused – some would say “brainwashed” I suppose. She knew he was bad, that he hurt her, that what he did was wrong, but she was also convinced that he was trying to protect her and her girls, that the world out there was bad and frightening. In her increasing freedom, she may have been able to escape or to ask for help from the outside world, but she was confused and scared. When she was finally rescued and her true identity known, it took quite a bit of adjustment and therapy to help rebuild her family (her mother, sister, and aunt were very supportive when finally reconnected) and adjust to the larger world. She always loved animals, placing great store in pets – and she was eventually allowed to keep a small menagerie in Phillip’s backyard. Now, she has established a foundation (the JAYC Foundation, which stands for “Just Ask Yourself to Care”) to help families recover from trauma, using animal therapy.

Jaycee’s memoir is, most obviously, heart-wrenching and horrific and tragic; I don’t need to explain that aspect to you. It is also very raw and real. Jaycee has only a 5th grade education, and this book appears to have gone straight to print from her own rough writing. It is full of run-on sentences, fragments, ramblings that change tense throughout, grammatical errors, etc. I found this distracting at first, but ultimately I can’t help but respect how fully and authentically she’s put herself out there. The decision to publish her memoir must have been a difficult one. She speaks of wanting to publicize the bad things that Phillip and Nancy did, to not let them get away with it (or get away with thinking it was okay, or that Phillip was a victim – ugh). Also, some proceeds from the sale of the book go to the JAYC Foundation.

She tells her story very candidly and discusses her feelings very candidly. It has rather a different feeling than most memoirs you’ll find; it reads like a journal, unpolished. But again, once you get used to it, it makes for a unique experience.

What led me to pick this book up, you ask? I’m still wondering, myself. I felt a little weird reading it: voyeuristic, prurient, icky. I guess it’s the same as the train wreck you can’t look away from. My heart certainly goes out to Jaycee. She works very hard to stay positive and hopeful, and states that she doesn’t harbor hatred for the people who’ve done this to her; she doesn’t have time for hate, it’s wasteful, she wants to move forward and live and think positively. Good for her. She’s definitely still innocent, inexperienced, and lacking in formal education. But I’m impressed with her attitude, and she seems to have a really excellent support system in place; her family sounds great. I think she’ll be okay; she certainly has my best wishes.

This was a quick and easy read, and good for helping us be grateful for what we have in life (to put it mildly).

2 Responses

  1. […] has to tell all the more powerful. (In fact, I was reminded a little bit of Jaycee Dugard’s A Stolen Life.) I can’t overemphasize how moving his tale is. Go read the book. It’s extraordinary to […]

  2. […] to learn about Susan B. Anthony or Major Taylor? I say, no. But oh, then there was my reading of Jaycee Dugard’s book, which made me feel just dirty. And I get the point with someone like Plath, too: she is a literary […]

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