Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Stolen Life

Though the book has been out for over a year, I finally read Jaycee Dugard's memoir titled A Stolen Life.  You may recall that she was kidnapped at the age of 11 from a neighborhood close to the area where I lived at the time.  While her resurfacing at the age of 29 made international news, her story gained plenty of air time with the local news throughout the 18 years that she was missing.  Because she was taken while walking to her bus stop, our community expressed widespread shock and fear since so many of us had children walking to bus stops each weekday morning at the time.  All parents were deeply affected by the incident.

I thought a lot about where she might be, what might have happened to her, how she could have been taken so quickly...  I memorized her face and kept an eye out for her as well as the car she was pulled into.  I remember going out to dinner with my in-laws and there being a missing poster for her on the front door of the restaurant.  My mother-in-law glanced at the poster, pointed at Jaycee Lee's picture and blurted out, "She's long gone.  She's someone's sex slave now."

I remember the shock I felt at that statement.  I had never heard that term before.  Usually in kidnapping cases, the child was either taken by a relative who was denied custody, was taken by a woman who wanted a child but couldn't have one of her own, or was taken by someone with the intention to rape and release or rape and murder the victim.  The thought of someone being a long-term slave had never occurred to me.

I remember guarding my own daughter closely, walking her to the bus stop, but as she got older and wanted her space, I just tried to watch from the window so as not to embarrass her.  The day eventually came when a man in a car pulled up next to her behind a line of trees where I lost my view of her, and asked her for directions.  Obviously, his intentions were not good.  No sane adult asks a little child for directions.  When she tried to answer his question, he claimed he couldn't hear her and needed her to come closer.  Fortunately, she hurried home and told me about it instead of approaching his car.  That incident gave me chills and memories of Jaycee Lee's kidnapping came flooding back to me.  I found out from the book that she was actually taken down with a stun gun. 

When she was found, we were ecstatic.  I was concerned for her mental health.  I felt as if her memoir was almost a way of her reassuring those of us who worried for her that she is okay and looking forward to the rest of her life.  I'm astounded by the fact that she was more motivated to help others than herself.  Throughout her captivity she cared for various animals, worried about her mother's emotional state, put her two children ahead of herself despite giving birth to her first child at the age of 14 when she was a child herself, and even protected her captors.  She kept journals and wrote about wanting to help people and animals in need.

Her brave memoir is a selfless offering that helps us understand the psychology behind why some kidnapping victims deny their true identity, even when their chance of rescue is front and center.  I learned how her kidnappers were able to grab her so quickly and smuggle her such a long distance without getting caught.  All those questions I had were answered by the survivor herself.

But the reason why I'm writing about this here is because her story includes horses.  She was kidnapped a week before school let out for summer.  She and a friend had hoped to spend their summer working on a dude ranch with horses.  When she was found 18 years later, her family was placed under F.B.I. protection in a location where they all could get equine therapy.  A psychiatrist worked with them on the reunification process of the family, using interaction with horses as a way to help the family members bond and learn about their own behavior and thought processes based upon the horses' reactions to them and their reactions to the horses. 

I've always thought of equine therapy as a way for the physically disabled to keep their bodies working and the emotionally or mentally disabled to feel joy and connect with animals, but the therapy program Jaycee experienced sounds fascinating since part of it involved analyzing why each person did what they did with the horses, what their behavior meant on a deeper or even symbolic level, and what they could do differently next time that would help them reach their goal.  A fun day with horses becomes the catalyst for deeper counseling.

But I know I don't need to tell any of my readers about the value of equine therapy.  Most of us are fortunate enough to get it every day when we go to the barn to feed, groom or ride our horses.  It beats lying on a sofa while a psychiatrist takes notes.  Have you pet your therapist today?


aurora said...

Great thought provoking post & review. I can't fathom the inner strength it must take to rise above abuse & having your life hijacked. I heard she had a connection with animals, didn't know about the equine therapy.

I'm so thankful for our horses and all that they share with us, and yes, I'll be petting our therapists today. Equine therapy never ceases to amaze me, it's powerful stuff. said...

I read this book shortly after it was released because I felt the need to honor this girl (now woman) who has lived through such a horrendous ordeal of the messed up part of humanity...from being kidnapped to being sexually assualted for years and then to being forced to live in squallor while raising her own children with her abuser...horrifying. She was a POW in every sense and her form of torture was unthinkable. I loved the part about her therapy with the beautiful. I guess since her trust in humanity was probably on the very edge, working with a horse had to be a relief. No judgment and no pity.

I truly felt that if Jayce was brave enough to write about her tragic experiences, then I could at least be brave enough to turn the pages and to listen to her story. You can tell she's not an author...she's a person with an experience to share. I thought, given her circumstances, she did a beautiful job and I wish her all the best. There is no restitution that could make up for all she suffered, but I sure am glad she's feeling independent...LOVED the part about her learning to drive!

Great post!


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Wow, that's some heavy, thought-provoking reading. What a horrible thing to have happened.
But so true about horses being wonderful therapists. I can't imagine not having mine there to just listen and allow me to lean on her when I need to.


fernvalley01 said...

wow! interesting ,and moving. I had not considered reading the book, I think I will now, and have I pet my therapist today?? Sounds different but yes several of them

K.K. said...

I have wanted to read this book for a while now. When I was 13 a friend of mine was kidnapped and murdered. We had all obviously hoped that she would be found but sadly it was not the case. The man who killed her grabbed her when she went for a walk one sunday night. Which was scary because we lived in a small town northern town. The guy who did it was a known creep, but most people brushed him off as “harmless, just creepy.” A year or two before my friend was killed my dad had taken me to out for dinner and the guy kept staring at me. My dad noticed so he made us leave our dinner and get different food to go. To this day I am terrified of being kidnapped and I’m 30 years old. When shopping with my mother I still stay close by. It’s silly, but my brain keeps thinking back to my friend. She is always in the back of my mind and because of her I'm especially cautious.
I still plan on reading this book though, the story is really interesting to me.

Anonymous said...

I read the book when it first came out. Did you see the special with Diane Sawyer the other night? That was a good one with Jaycee on it. Now that I've seen that, I'm going to read the book again.


Dreaming said...

I just saw her interview with Diane Sawyer on TV. That was pretty powerful, too.

Dreaming said...

Oops... didn't mean to push 'enter'!

I wanted to finish by commenting that I've often heard: "The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a woman."! Too true!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

K.K. - An experience like that would definitely affect you for the rest of your life. You are probably always thinking, "What if..."

I did see the interview on T.V., which is what prompted me to download her book to my Kindle. I loved how Jaycee was all smiles in some scenes.

Cut-N-Jump said...

Yes I did pett my therapist today. I also brushed him and even jogged with him a bit. I often wonder if the horses have any idea how much they do for us- just by being there?

While I have not read the book or seen the special on tv, for her to put into words and speak of the things she endured is also healing. It is something that helps us let go of rather than internalize what is going on with us. I wish her the best and her children too.

Cut-N-Jump said...

Yes I did pett my therapist today. I also brushed him and even jogged with him a bit. I often wonder if the horses have any idea how much they do for us- just by being there?

While I have not read the book or seen the special on tv, for her to put into words and speak of the things she endured is also healing. It is something that helps us let go of rather than internalize what is going on with us. I wish her the best and her children too.

Cheryl Ann said...

I pet my therapists this weekend. There's nothing like a good horse nuzzle to make the world right. I think I'll purchase this book and read it. I haven't heard about it, so thanks for letting us all know. I do remember her story.